NASA sees potential for hypersonic passenger flights on 50 routes

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Ilustración de avión hipersónico  Foto: NASA

MADRID, August 22, 2023 – NASA estimates there are potential markets for hypersonic passenger flights on about 50 routes. As the US and other countries ban overland supersonic flights, the findings extended to transoceanic travel, including busy North Atlantic and Pacific routes.

Flying from New York to London up to four times faster than currently possible may seem like a distant dream, but NASA is investigating whether the commercial market could support travel at such speeds.

NASA studied the business case for supersonic passenger air travel aboard planes that could theoretically fly between Mach 2 and Mach 4 (between 1,500 and 3,000 miles per hour at sea level). In comparison, today’s largest commercial aircraft fly at about 600 miles per hour, or about 80% of the speed of sound.

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NASA’s Questt mission, using its X-59 supersonic silent aircraft, aims to provide regulators with data that could help change the rules of supersonic ground flight.

“We conducted similar conceptual studies at Mach 1.6-1.8 more than a decade ago, and the resulting roadmaps have since helped guide NASA’s research efforts, including those that led to X-59,” he said in a statement Lori Ozoroski, project manager for NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project. “These new studies will update understanding of technology roadmaps and identify additional research needs across a broader range of high-speed technologies.”

NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicle Program (AAVP) is now moving to the next phase of high-speed travel research, which includes awarding two 12-month contracts to companies to develop conceptual designs and technology roadmaps. The roadmaps will explore the possibilities of air travel, outline the risks and challenges, and identify the technologies needed to make travel at Mach 2+ speeds a reality.

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Boeing is leading the first team with partners Exosonic, GE Aerospace, Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, Rolls-Royce North American Technologies and others. Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems is leading the second team with partners Blue Ridge Research and Consulting, Boom Supersonic and Rolls-Royce North American Technologies.

Each team will develop roadmap elements that include airframe, powerplant, propulsion, thermal management and composites capable of withstanding high supersonic speeds. They will also create non-proprietary designs for concept vehicles.

“It’s really important to get your hands on design concepts and technology roadmaps once the ventures are complete,” said Mary Jo Long-Davis, manager of NASA’s Hypersonic Technology Project. “We are also collectively aware of the need to consider safety, efficiency, economic and social aspects. It is important to innovate responsibly to provide benefits to travelers and not harm the environment.”

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Long-Davis and Ozoroski were commissioned by NASA’s Aeronautical Mission Research Directorate and the AAVP to develop a high-speed strategy. These concept vehicle designs and technology roadmaps are key to developing this strategy.

Once the industry engagement phase is complete, NASA and its industrial and academic partners will decide whether to continue the research with their own investments.

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