Fancy getting your clients to New York in 90 minutes? Hold on, NASA might have the answer.
The US space agency has revealed it is spearheading a project to revive supersonic passenger travel – but it’s not content with reaching mere Concorde speeds of Mach 2 (1,535mph).
Instead, it wants to explore the possibility of hitting Mach 4 (3,069mph).
While the prospect might seem like a pipedream, NASA appears to be taking the idea seriously. It has issued contracts to aerospace giants Northrop Grumman and Boeing to work on ideas. Each team is backed by UK jet manufacturer Rolls-Royce along with a host of other high-tech engineering firms.
The project comes after a NASA study concluded that passenger jet travel between Mach 2 and Mach 4 was theoretically possible. Since Concorde was mothballed back in 2003, passenger travel has been back in the slow lane – modern airliners cruise at roughly 600 mph, or about 80% of the speed of sound.
Around 50 possible routes where new super-fast jets could be used have been identified, although a major problem is the potential noise created. NASA says it may have some of the answers from its earlier Quesst mission, which resulted in the X-59 quiet supersonic aircraft.
“We conducted similar concept studies over a decade ago at Mach 1.6-1.8, and those resulting roadmaps helped guide NASA research efforts since, including those leading to the X-59,” said Lori Ozoroski, project manager for NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project.
“These new studies will both refresh those looks at technology roadmaps and identify additional research needs for a broader high-speed range.”
Each team will look at airframe, power, propulsion, thermal management and composite materials that can hold up under high-supersonic speeds before creating designs for concept aircraft.
“The design concepts and technology roadmaps are really important to have in our hands when the companies are finished,” said Mary Jo Long-Davis, manager of NASA’s Hypersonic Technology Project.
“We are also collectively conscious of the need to account for safety, efficiency, economic, and societal considerations. It’s important to innovate responsibly so we return benefits to travelers and do no harm to the environment.”
Hitting Mach 4 would be a huge technological leap. Concorde set passenger jet records with a Mach 2 cruising speed, while the official air speed record is currently held by the acclaimed SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. It officially reached speeds of 2,193 mph (Mach 2.85) but is rumoured to have achieved Mach 3.4 (2,608mph).
*Picture credit: Boeing