NASA’s supersonic aircraft has the potential to transport you from London to New York in just 90 minutes

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NASA has unveiled plans for a supersonic passenger aircraft that could reduce travel time from London to New York to just 90 minutes. The agency has identified around fifty established routes connecting cities as potential passenger markets for this innovation.

One of these routes could enable flights from New York City to London, cutting travel time by up to four times compared to current speeds. Leading companies in the aviation industry, including Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and GE Aerospace, have been enlisted to create non-proprietary designs for conceptual vehicles.

NASA’s recent efforts have centered around exploring the feasibility of supersonic passenger air travel at speeds ranging from Mach 2 to Mach 4 (approximately 1,535 to 3,045 mph at sea level). This is a significant advancement over today’s large airliners, which cruise at around 600 mph, or about 80% of the speed of sound.

The iconic Concorde, which operated from 1976 to 2003 under British Airways and Air France, marked the first commercial aircraft to exceed the speed of sound with a cruising speed of Mach 2.02 (1,354 mph). While NASA’s studies show potential passenger markets for supersonic travel, regulations in the US and other countries restrict supersonic flight over land. Therefore, the studies focus on transoceanic travel, particularly high-demand North Atlantic and Pacific routes.

NASA’s Quesst mission, involving the X-59 quiet supersonic aircraft, aims to provide regulatory authorities with data that could facilitate changes to supersonic flight regulations over land.

Lori Ozoroski, project manager for NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project, highlighted the agency’s previous concept studies and their influence on ongoing research efforts. The new studies aim to update these technology roadmaps and identify research gaps for a broader range of high-speed possibilities.

NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program (AAVP) is progressing to the next phase of high-speed travel research by awarding two 12-month contracts to companies for developing concept designs and technology roadmaps. These roadmaps will explore potential air travel advancements, address associated risks and challenges, and outline necessary technologies to realize speeds beyond Mach 2.

Boeing is spearheading one of the teams, collaborating with Exosonic, GE Aerospace, Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, Rolls-Royce North American Technologies, and others. The second team, led by Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, includes partners like Blue Ridge Research and Consulting, Boom Supersonic and Rolls-Royce North American Technologies.

Each team will work on roadmap elements encompassing airframe design, power, propulsion, thermal management, and durable composite materials for high-supersonic speeds. Additionally, they will create open designs for conceptual vehicles.

Safety, efficiency, economics, and environmental considerations are top priorities during this innovation process. Mary Jo Long-Davis, manager of NASA’s Hypersonic Technology Project, emphasized the responsible approach to innovation to benefit travelers without causing harm to the environment.

Upon completing the industry engagement phase, NASA and its partners will determine whether to continue research with their own investments. The fastest transatlantic flight achieved by Concorde occurred on February 7, 1996, when it covered the New York to London route in 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 59 seconds.

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