AN OXFORDSHIRE company developing a revolutionary air-fuelled spacecraft engine has this week begun construction on a test facility where it plans to carry out its first ground-based tests.

Culham-based Reaction Engines has started building the facility at Westcott in Buckinghamshire.

It plans to start using it in 2020.

Reaction CEO Mark Thomas said: “This is another exciting step forward in development of Reaction Engines’ SABRE engine and a visible demonstration of the UK’s commitment to the programme.

“I look forward to seeing this unique facility take shape and commencing our core engine testing, which will be a defining moment for aerospace.”

The SABRE engine which Reaction is building would power a ‘space plane’ able to reach speeds of more than 19,000 miles an hour and fly from London to Australia to just four hours.

It would also be the first ever aircraft which could reach outer space from a runway take-off.

The SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) engine is essentially an extremely powerful air conditioning unit.

It would cool incoming air from over 1,000°C to minus 150°C in less than 1/100th of a second – six times faster than the blink of an eye – and use that in place of traditional liquid oxygen fuel.

The European Space Agency said the start of construction on the new Reaction Engines test facility this week was an ‘historic’ moment.