Better known for its luxury car brand, Rolls-Royce also made its mark on aerospace research in 2023. While its fancy cars are managed by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd, that company is a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce Holdings. Since 2011, they have acted as an aerospace researcher and manufacturer, becoming the second-largest aircraft engine producer in the world.
Ongoing Aviation Research
Rolls-Royce works as part of a vast and complicated ecosystem focused on a difficult challenge – improving the technology we use to create aircraft and spacecraft. Aircraft are becoming increasingly important for defence, cargo management, and air travel for holidaymakers. As the world becomes more connected, it pays off to make those critical flights faster and more energy efficient.
Culturally, aviation has always captured the imagination of the public when new developments come along. It’s why pilots can receive media attention, and why entertainment options often include aviation-themed options. That can be seen in iGaming, which also depicts pilots in some of its slot games. These allow users to play Aviator and other games about aircraft in the past and present – including space travel.
While developments like supersonic travel or the latest space launches get people excited, they wouldn’t happen without aerospace researchers. That’s where Rolls-Royce enters the equation, having been responsible for two aerospace breakthroughs in the last year.
Rolls-Royce’s Hydrogen Breakthrough
In September of 2023, Rolls-Royce announced that it had crossed an industry-first milestone. That was its hydrogen research project, a collaboration with easyJet, Loughborough University, and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). Together, they’re working on tech that allows hydrogen to be used as aviation fuel.
Testing on their Pearl 700 engine at the DLR Cologne facility, Rolls-Royce managed to combust a fuel made from 100% hydrogen. The experiment matched the conditions for take-off and proved, theoretically, that a 100% hydrogen engine is possible.
Hydrogen burns faster than kerosene, making it difficult to burn for use as a fuel. Rolls-Royce applied a nozzle system that carefully controlled the burn and introduced air into it, to stop it from fizzling out before take-off. If applied to a real working aircraft, it could be the key to producing zero-carbon flight.
Rolls-Royce’s Nuclear Moon Reactor
The latest and more experimental Rolls-Royce breakthrough came in late November of 2023. In the preceding March, the UK Space Agency gave Rolls-Royce almost £2.9 million in funding. The goal? Research into a nuclear power source for a future moon base.
When the UK Space Conference hit Belfast in the following autumn, Rolls-Royce were there to showcase their nuclear micro-reactor. Their work on micro-reactors has been ongoing for quite some time, along with small modular reactors (SMRs). Both are in keeping with their mission of delivering net zero energy for public and private sector use.
Since micro-reactors are self-contained, they are a candidate for powering space and planetary exploration. Previous space-faring gear has relied on solar power, though it has serious limitations because nighttime on the moon lasts two weeks. On other planets, night cycles can last even longer. By tweaking their pre-existing micro-reactor technology, Rolls-Royce hopes to power the moon bases of the future.
Ultimately, Rolls-Royce’s moon micro-reactor is at a very early stage. While they plan to use them terrestrially, getting them to work in a zero-gravity, zero-oxygen environment is another matter. In their demo, Rolls-Royce hoped that a prototype could be sent to the moon as early as 2029, give or take a few years.