AN Oxfordshire science centre could help put tourists into orbit with a new type of space plane.

Culham Science Centre’s Reaction Engines Ltd has carried out successful tests on a revolutionary rocket engine for its Skylon vehicle.

The space plane will be able to reach speeds of more than 19,000 miles an hour – which would cut the journey time from London to Australia to just four hours.

Reaction Engines hopes to run cargo flights to space stations by 2022 and says the craft – which will take off and land from conventional runways – could later be adapted to take tourists towards the stars.

Following the success of the tests, monitored by the European Space Agency, the firm is aiming to take on more staff.

Reaction founder Alan Bond, 68, from Stanford in the Vale, said the 50-strong team would grow to 150 in the next five years.

He said: “Ultimately the whole project could create thousands of jobs.

“I’ve been working on this for about 30 years, and I’m delighted that we have now got this breakthrough.

“The engine will enable aircraft to reach the opposite side of the world in under four hours, or to fly directly into orbit and return in a single stage, taking off and landing on a runway.”

He added: “The challenges we have had to face have been considerable. The team has been trying to solve this for over 30 years.”

Engine tests will continue for three years, with the first test flights scheduled for 2019.

He said: “Initially Skylon will be a cargo vehicle, but within a few years it could be carrying people.”

About £10m has been spent designing the craft and £100m more will be spent in the next five years. Each of the 270ft Skylons would cost £700m.

Most funding has come from the private sector but the firm is also looking for Government cash support.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts described the tests as “a remarkable achievement”.