The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has partnered with Boeing and Northrop Grumman to identify what is needed to bring an ultra-high-speed Mach 4 passenger jet to the commercial marketplace.
At the end of the twelve-month contracts, both companies will deliver a set of designs and technology roadmaps for a commercial vehicle that can travel as fast as four times the speed of sound, including propulsion, materials, and other technological hurdles.
Twenty Years of Advancements Since the Death of Commercial Supersonic Travel
In the late twentieth century, the wealthy could travel from New York to London and back in the first and last commercial supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde. Since its retirement in October 2023, commercial air travel has been limited to around 600 mph or roughly 80% of the speed of sound. That means in 2023, a trip from New York to London still takes over 8 hours.
Fortunately, a number of technological achievements pointing to a new era of supersonic travel in the very near future have been developed during that interim. For instance, breakthroughs in material science have made building a plane that can travel at Mach 4 without falling apart or burning up much more viable. Similar improvements have taken place in propulsion technology with the development of high-speed ramjets and ultra-high-speed scramjets (supersonic combustible ramjets) capable of propelling an aircraft at supersonic and possibly hypersonic (five times the speed of sound) speeds.
One of the most significant developments comes courtesy of NASA’s X-59 program, which aims to dramatically reduce the sonic boom caused by aircraft as they pass through the sound barrier. The sonic boom created by Concorde limited its use to overseas routes where an audible boom wouldn’t rattle the houses of people living below the flight path.
Now, NASA is tasking their industry partners to take those developments, and others, to the next…