Ever since the Concorde took its last flight in November 2003, the idea of flying commercially at supersonic speeds has been forgotten by passengers, but NASA has been working for some time to make flights from New York to London in just 90 minutes a reality.
Part of its Quesst mission, NASA is already in the process of flight testing the X-59 aircraft, but the latest update reveals that the agency is going deeper in researching the possibilities of bringing supersonic aviation back to travellers. NASA is moving their investigation beyond the technological sphere of developing aircraft capable of sustaining such speeds, but also looking into “the business case” for supersonic passenger travel.
Flying from New York City to London up to four times faster than what’s currently possible may sound like a far-off dream, but NASA is exploring whether the commercial market could support travel at such speeds.NASA
The agency’s studies found that supersonic air travel would be possible on 50 existing flight routes. Many countries prohibit flying at such speeds above land due to the potential damage caused by the shockwaves created when breaking the sound barrier, thus the 50 paths are all transoceanic, crossing over either the North Atlantic or the Pacific.
This is just the latest set of studies NASA has conducted on the matter. “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”, explained 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.”
The next phase of the agency’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program (AAVP) high-speed travel research is to award two 12-month contracts for companies to develop concept designs and technology roadmaps that will explore air travel possibilities, outline risks and challenges and identify needed technologies to make Mach 2-plus travel a reality.
One of the teams is headed by Boeing, in partnership with GE Aerospace and Rolls-Royce North American Technologies, among others, while the other team is leaded by Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, also working with Rolls-Royce North American Technologies, along with Boom Supersonic and Blue Ridge Research and Consulting. Each team will develop roadmap elements to include airframe, power, propulsion, thermal management and composite materials that can hold up under high-supersonic speeds, as well as create non-proprietary designs for concept vehicles.
“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 travellers and do no harm to the environment.”
Once the industry engagement phase is completed, NASA said it will analyse the options with its industry and academic partners and decide whether or not to continue the research with their own investments.