NASA is Developing a New Supersonic Jet
There’s good news this week for those who miss the speedy flights of the Concorde: supersonic air travel may soon be possible again. NASA announced on Monday that it is working to create a “low boom” passenger jet, which will be able to travel at supersonic speeds, but without the noisy disruptions of the Concorde.
NASA awarded $20 million to aerospace company Lockheed Martin to create a design for what it’s calling Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST). NASA explains that this technology would turn a sonic boom—the sound of the shock waves that occur when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound—into more of a “heartbeat” or “soft thump.” As USA Today explains, “QueSST would be designed to dissipate the many small shock waves so they can’t meld together.”
This new design could lead to the first supersonic passenger jet planes since the Concorde completed its last trans-Atlantic flight in 2003. CNN reported at the time that the plane—which could cross from New York to London in about three hours—had “been lauded for its technical innovation, but condemned for being too expensive to make as well as too noisy and uneconomic to run.” The sonic boom was deemed such a disruption that the United States banned overland supersonic travel.
But this new investment from NASA signals a potential revolution for commercial air travel. Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission, stated in a press release that in developing this “quiet supersonic X-plane,” NASA hopes the airline industry will be able to open supersonic travel to the public once more.
And NASA isn’t alone in this movement back toward supersonic flight. CNBC notes that the manufacturer Aerion has partnered with Airbus to create the AS2 that would halve the current New York to London travel time. And The Guardian wrote last fall that a “new era beckons for supersonic air travel” with new aircraft under development from Spike Aerospace as well.
Of course, all of these designs will likely take several years to complete; USA Today reports that after this initial $20 million contract, NASA will have to wait on Congress to award the approximately $280 million that it will require to build and test the quiet supersonic X-planes. So stay tuned—and maybe start saving up for what is likely to be a pricey ticket.