It is a journey that takes more than 20 hours by conventional passenger plane – enough time for several meal breaks and a string of movies.
But soon British holidaymakers will be able to touch down in Sydney having barely digested their lunch.
Flights from the UK to Australia could be reduced to about four hours thanks to new engines developed in Britain, experts say.
Rocket engines capable of propelling an aircraft to Mach 5.5 – five times the speed of sound – are being developed for use on commercial airliners by Oxfordshire-based firm Reaction.
Dr Graham Turnock, of the UK Space Agency, told the Space Conference in Newport yesterday: ‘This is not sci-fi. This is not a pipe dream. This is literally in the works. It has the potential to turn air travel on its head. Certainly the way you conceive air travel will completely change in ten years’ time.’
Flights from the UK to Australia could be reduced to about four hours thanks to new engines developed in Britain, experts say
The SABRE – Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine – has a top speed of 4,143mph, meaning the approximate 10,550 miles between the UK and Australia could be covered in just four-and-a-half hours. Dr Turnock forecast that the technology for an operational flight vehicle could be ready by ‘the 2030s’.
The revolutionary technology overcomes one of the key problems of ultra-high-speed flying. Usually, when flying at such a pace, the air entering the engine would reach temperatures that would melt the parts.
But the SABRE will use liquid gases such as helium which, during tests, have been able to cool the incoming air from 1,000C to -150C in one hundredth of a second – without creating ice blockages. Concorde got around the problem using air vents to slow down the air reaching the engine.
Hydrogen will also be used to power the SABRE. It is considered a green fuel as it produces water vapour when it burns as opposed to greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. It has been previously suggested that the design could power a generation of passenger jets called the Lapcat – which will travel at about two-and-a-half times faster than Concorde’s top speed. And while normal long-haul passenger jets cruise at around 35,000ft, the Lapcat could fly as high as 92,000ft.
Shaun Driscoll, of Reaction, said the system could also be used to ‘take off on a runway, go into space, release a satellite and come down’.
The company has received around £60million from the Government – matched by industry, including Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Bae Systems. It is likely that SABRE-powered planes will be able take off from Spaceport Cornwall –which is currently being developed in Newquay in partnership with satellite launch company Virgin Orbit and expected to open by 2021.
Will Whitehorn, of trade association UK Space, said: ‘The Reaction engine is a very interesting technology. If you can find a way to create a motor which can act like a jet engine in the atmosphere and a rocket motor in space, we’ll have cracked one of the biggest conundrums of space launch.’
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Mothers put themselves at higher risk when trying a natural birth following a caesarean, according to a major study.
The women are seven times more likely to suffer a ruptured womb and have a slightly greater risk of potentially deadly sepsis.
The Oxford University study of more than 74,000 births found their babies have a marginally higher risk of needing resuscitation or dying during or after birth.
Dr Kathryn Fitzpatrick, who led the research, said: ‘Our findings can be used to counsel and manage women with previous caesarean sections and should be considered alongside existing evidence on the increased risk of serious maternal morbidity in subsequent pregnancies associated with elective repeat caesarean section.’
Nearly 30 per cent of UK women who give birth have a caesarean section. For their second pregnancy most are given the choice of a caesarean or a natural delivery.
Women given a C-section have their baby removed through an incision and the scarring can tear in childbirth. This ruptures the womb, which can cause severe bleeding for mothers and, in a very small number of cases, the death of their baby. However, fewer than 2 per cent of women who attempt a natural birth after a caesarean suffer complications.
Professor Andrew Shennan, a consultant obstetrician and representative of the charity Tommy’s, said: ‘The increased risk of attempting a vaginal birth after a caesarean is slightly greater overall compared to an elective caesarean.
‘But the risk of these complications is the same as for women giving birth for the first time, and therefore reasonable. There are also advantages to avoiding repeated C-sections.’
Doctors say that repeated caesareans carry the risk of infection or damage to the bladder or bowel from the surgical incision.
The Oxford researchers examined the cases of 74,043 women who gave birth in Scotland between 2002 and 2015 – after at least one previous caesarean.
More than 28,000 planned to give birth naturally, with more than two thirds managing to do so without needing an emergency caesarean. Another 45,579 women opted for a planned caesarean.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found women attempting a natural birth were 7.3 times more likely to suffer a ruptured womb. This happened to 69 women in this group compared with 17 women among those having a repeat caesarean.
They were also more likely to see their babies die during or after birth, need resuscitation or neonatal care, or be born unwell based on the apgar scale, which rates babies’ health.
The extra danger for babies may be caused by women suffering ruptured wombs, or the stress of being pushed through the birth canal.
Their mothers were 80 per cent more likely to suffer sepsis, which can be caused by bacteria when women’s membranes rupture after going into labour. However the risk was small.
Overall, 1.8 per cent of those attempting a vaginal birth and 0.8 per cent of those having a planned caesarean experienced serious maternal complications.
And 8 per cent of those attempting a natural birth and 6.4 per cent of those having a planned caesarean had one or more complications affecting their baby.
An NHS spokesman said: ‘No two births are the same and midwives and other health professionals will explain the benefits and risks of different approaches to childbirth with a woman, advising her personally on the safest options.’