The aerospace agency is looking into whether there is a business case to be made for commercial planes that can fly at four times the speed of sound, according to Jalopnik. The jets, which are just theoretical at this point, would be able to fly at Mach 4—or twice the speed of the Concorde.
The latest round of interest in supersonic passenger air travel comes 20 years after the Concorde’s final commercial flight in the fall of 2003. It may have been a technical marvel but the supersonic jet failed to revolutionize air travel. This was partially because of the enormous cost that went into developing, building and flying the plane. A ban on supersonic flight over land by the U.S. and other countries didn’t help either, since it severely limited the routes it could fly.
It appears that NASA thinks things would go better this time around. Recent studies have identified around 50 possible passenger routes for jets that can travel between Mach 2 and Mach 4 (roughly 1,535 mph to 3,045 mph at sea level), according to a post to the agency’s official blog. The Concorde was limited to a top speed of Mach 2, while today’s passenger airliners fly at around 600 mph. Supersonic flight over land is still largely prohibitive, so the routes are all across the Pacific and North Atlantic.
NASA, which is currently working on an experimental jet with Lockheed Martin called the X-59 QueSST, is now ready to move on to the next phase of its research. This involves issuing 12-month contracts to companies to develop concept designs and “technology roadmaps.” The companies will be spread into two groups, one of which will be led by Boeing, and the other by Northrop Grumman.
NASA isn’t the only group interested in the commercial viability of supersonic passenger air travel. Aerospace start-ups like Boom Supersonic and Spike Aerospace are also looking into resuscitating the mode of air travel. Boom CEO Blake School told Robb Report earlier last week that he hopes the company’s XB-1 prototype will complete its first test flight before the end of the year.