NASA’s Ambitious Move Towards Supersonic Passenger Flights

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NASA’s Ambitious Move Towards Supersonic Passenger Flights Revisiting the Era of Speedy Transatlantic Travel Remember the days when air travel meant spacious seats, gourmet meals, and a swift transatlantic journey in under three hours? Those glory days, epitomized by the Concorde, have long faded into history. Nowadays, a flight from London to New York typically takes around eight hours, or a bit less in the opposite direction. The current record, just under five hours from New York to London, relies on the mercy of favorable jetstreams.

However, NASA is reigniting the dream of supersonic travel, envisioning a future where a New York to London flight could be completed in as little as 90 minutes.

Exploring High-Speed Possibilities

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In a recent blog post detailing its “high-speed strategy,” NASA unveiled its investigation into the potential of commercial flights traveling at speeds of up to Mach 4, equivalent to over 3,000 miles per hour. NASA’s Glenn Research Center conducted the study, identifying approximately 50 feasible routes for these high-speed flights, mainly focused on transoceanic journeys, such as those over the North Atlantic and Pacific. Overland supersonic flight remains restricted in the United States and certain other countries.

Nonetheless, NASA is actively developing “quiet” supersonic aircraft as part of its Quesst mission, known as the X-59. The agency hopes that these innovative aircraft may lead to revisions in regulations, paving the way for flights traveling at speeds ranging from Mach 2 to Mach 4, significantly surpassing the Concorde’s Mach 2.04 or 1,354 miles per hour. Such advancements could potentially reduce transatlantic crossing times to an astonishing 90 minutes.

NASA moves a step closer to supersonic passenger flights
NASA moves a step closer to supersonic passenger flights

Advancing Towards Reality

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Following the completion of these preliminary studies, NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program (AAV) is embarking on the next phase of research for high-speed travel. This phase involves engaging with aerospace companies to develop aircraft designs and explore the possibilities of air travel at supersonic speeds. The focus will include outlining potential risks and challenges and identifying the necessary technologies to transform the dream of Mach 2-plus travel into a reality.

Two distinguished teams, led by Boeing and Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, respectively, will be tasked with creating designs for aircraft capable of sustaining high speeds. These studies build upon similar research conducted a decade ago, which ultimately shaped the development of the X-59 aircraft. Lori Ozoroski, project manager for NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project, emphasized that these new studies aim to refresh technology roadmaps and identify additional research requirements for a broader range of high-speed travel.

Considering Safety and Responsibility

The upcoming phase of research will not only delve into technological advancements but will also encompass considerations of safety, efficiency, economics, and societal impacts. Mary Jo Long-Davis, manager of NASA’s Hypersonic Technology Project, emphasized the importance of innovation guided by responsibility. Ensuring that supersonic travel aligns with safety and societal needs is paramount.

In July, Lockheed Martin marked a significant milestone by completing the construction of NASA’s X-59 test aircraft. This innovative aircraft is designed to mitigate sonic booms, potentially making overland flights a reality. Ground tests and the inaugural test flight are slated for later this year, with NASA aiming to provide sufficient data to U.S. regulators by 2027. NASA’s ambitious efforts may well bring us closer to reliving the era of swift, transatlantic travel.

Exclusive look at NASA's low-boom supersonic plane
Exclusive look at NASA’s low-boom supersonic plane

A Greener Approach to Supersonic Travel

Amidst NASA’s ambitious pursuit of supersonic passenger flights, environmental sustainability remains a critical consideration. The aviation industry has made significant strides in reducing its carbon footprint, and any resurrection of supersonic travel must align with these eco-conscious goals. NASA’s commitment to “quiet” supersonic technology with the X-59 project is a testament to this commitment. By minimizing the disruptive sonic booms associated with flight, NASA is not only striving to make overland supersonic travel feasible but also aiming to minimize the potential environmental impact. Balancing speed and sustainability will undoubtedly be a key challenge in the journey towards realizing the next generation of high-speed air travel.

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