Space company Virgin Galactic on Monday announced a preliminary partnership with engine maker Rolls Royce to build an airliner capable of flying at three times the speed of sound.
Only the Concorde, another supersonic aircraft, had regularly carried passengers in the history of air transport, from 1976 to 2003. Virgin Galactic wants to go faster (Mach 3 instead of Mach 2 for the Concorde), but will have to solve the problems which doomed the Concorde, especially the noise and fuel consumption.
The aircraft imagined by Virgin in images published Monday is a delta wing capable of accommodating between 9 and 19 passengers, at an altitude of more than 60,000 feet, or 18,000 meters, about double that of current airliners. It will have to take off and land from existing airport runways.
Virgin Galactic has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Rolls Royce to develop the reactor for the future aircraft.
“The team will also work on the challenges represented by thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions and economic issues associated with routine high-speed flights,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
The company has so far been solely in the space tourism niche, thanks to a half-plane, half-rocket device designed to take six passengers at a time to float a few minutes to the edge of space. Test flights have yet to take place in the United States before the start of these commercial space flights.
But, listed on the stock exchange since last year, it seeks to diversify and announced, in May, an agreement with NASA to develop “high speed” technologies.
The American space agency has also been working for decades on the design of a silent supersonic experimental aircraft, the X-59, and a first copy is being built by Lockheed Martin in California. The goal is that the supersonic boom, the tremendous sound of explosion caused by crossing the sound barrier, is little, if any, audible from the ground.