Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will work with engine maker Rolls-Royce to develop a commercial passenger jet that can travel at three times the speed of sound.
The recruitment of Rolls-Royce, which provided the engines for Concorde, the world’s only civil-certified supersonic aircraft to date, is aimed at devising a propulsion system that’s both cutting-edge and sustainable, Virgin Galactic Chief Space Officer George Whitesides said in a statement Monday as the group unveiled the design of its proposed Mach 3 supersonic jet
The Spaceship Co., Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing division, aims to develop a delta-winged aircraft that would fly at speeds of up to 3,700 km/h, while taking off and landing like any other passenger plane at existing airports. The top speed of the iconic Concorde was 2,179 km/h, or just over Mach 2.
“The basic parameters of the initial high speed aircraft design include a targeted Mach 3 certified delta-wing aircraft that would have capacity for 9 to 19 people at an altitude above 60,000 feet and would also be able to incorporate custom cabin layouts to address customer needs, including business or first class seating arrangements,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
Virgin Galactic also said it will “help lead the way toward use of state-of-the-art sustainable aviation fuel."
“The design philosophy of the aircraft is geared around making high speed travel practical, sustainable, safe, and reliable, while making customer experience a top priority."
Plans for a return to supersonic passenger flight following Concorde’s exit from service in 2003 have been gathering pace over the past decade.
That push has been called into question as aviation becomes a prime target for climate campaigners, with projects now facing the challenge of cutting carbon emissions and reducing noise as well as making flights viable.
The outline accord with Rolls-Royce comes after the Virgin Galactic program cleared a mission-concept review that included representatives from NASA, while the US Federal Aviation Administration backed work on an certification framework for the plane.
Up next: beating the boom
The next step will involve developing the design, deciding which materials to use, and addressing the CO2 hurdle and problems posed by the sonic boom that comes with breaking the sound barrier, which were a major factor in limiting Concorde to a handful of routes, Virgin Galactic said.
The high-speed plane project is separate to Virgin Galactic’s main space venture, which aims to launch affluent adventure-seekers into sub-orbital flight before the end of this year, though the schedule could be delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
While Virgin Galactic’s primary focus is 'space tourism', the company is also keen to leverage its space technology know-how to develop superspeed point-to-point travel.
Virgin says that one of its aims is to “act as a catalyst to adoption in the rest of the aviation community” by coming up with baseline “sustainable technologies and techniques.”
The partnership with Rolls-Royce comes after the U.K. engine maker last week announced a pact with Boom Technology, one of three startups that have been competing to bring a new supersonic market in the next few years.
Boom also holds tentative orders from Branson’s Virgin Group, while the billionaire said in 2017 that Virgin Galactic would play a role in developing the fledgling company’s planned plane, building parts of the XB-1 demonstrator that’s due to be unveiled in October.
Additional reporting by David Flynn
This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here