NASA has unveiled its ambitious “high-speed strategy” aimed at investigating the feasibility of commercial supersonic aircraft that could potentially reduce passenger air travel times to a quarter of their current duration.
The Glenn Research Center, under NASA’s purview, recently released its research findings regarding the commercial prospects of high-speed passenger planes designed to operate at speeds ranging from Mach 2 to Mach 4, translating to approximately 2,470 kilometers per hour (1,535 mph) to 4,900 kilometers per hour (3,045 mph) at sea level.
These conceptual aircraft would significantly surpass the cruising speeds of today’s largest commercial airliners, which typically travel at approximately 966 kilometers per hour (600 mph), or roughly 80% of the speed of sound.
The research indicates that potential markets for these high-speed aircraft exist along approximately 50 established flight routes connecting cities situated across oceans.
Due to bans on supersonic travel over land in many nations, the studies primarily focused on transoceanic routes, including those traversing the Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans.
Lori Ozoroski, the project manager for NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project, explained that this research builds upon earlier studies conducted over a decade ago, which explored speeds ranging from Mach 1.6 to 1.8 (approximately 1,976 kilometers per hour to 2,222 kilometers per hour).
“These new studies will not only update our technology roadmaps but also identify additional areas of research required for a broader high-speed spectrum,” she emphasized.
The prior studies led to NASA’s Quesst mission, which led to the development of the X-59 “quiet supersonic” aircraft, with the aim of challenging existing regulations restricting overland supersonic flights by minimizing sonic booms.
NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program (AAVP) has now awarded 12-month contracts to Boeing and Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, along with their partners, tasking them with “developing conceptual designs and technology roadmaps” to explore the possibilities of high-speed air travel. These efforts will encompass identifying associated risks and challenges and the necessary technological advancements to realize Mach 2-plus travel.
Mary Jo Long-Davis, manager of NASA’s Hypersonic Technology Project, underscored the significance of the concepts and roadmaps that will emerge from these collaborations, emphasizing the need to innovate responsibly. She stated, “We are collectively mindful of safety, efficiency, economic considerations, and societal impacts. Responsible innovation is essential to ensure benefits for travelers while minimizing harm to the environment.”
In July, Lockheed Martin achieved a milestone by completing the construction of the X-59 aircraft, with plans for ground tests and an inaugural test flight scheduled later this year.