Setting its sights on Mach 3 speed, Virgin Galactic outlined “first stage design scope” plans for a supersonic delta-winged commercial aircraft that could carry up to 19 people and flight at altitudes above 60,000 feet. The August 3 unveiling of basic aircraft parameters comes as the aerospace and space travel company completed its mission concept review (MCR) for the development of the supersonic jet, as well as signed a non-binding memorandum with Rolls-Royce to collaborate on a potential engine.
Virgin Galactic said the conclusion of the MCR paves the way for the next design phase, which involves the definition of specific system architectures and configurations. During this phase, engineers will determine materials that will be used for the design and manufacturing of aircraft and tackle key challenges surrounding thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions, and economics, the company said.
Moving into this phase, Virgin Galactic has collaborated with NASA and the FAA on the program. The Mojave, California-based company in May announced that it had signed an agreement with NASA to explore high-speed technologies. In addition, Virgin Galactic is working with the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation to outline a certification framework for the supersonic jet, the company said.
Also supporting the project is Boeing, which partnered with Virgin Galactic last year and committed to a $20 million investment to support future space and high-speed travel.
“Virgin Galactic believes that working together with regulators and industry leaders such as Rolls Royce and Boeing will support the mission to broaden and transform global travel technologies, with a focus on customer experience,” the company said.
The design philosophy would be to create an aircraft that is sustainable, reliable, safe, and makes high speed travel practical, Virgin Galactic said, adding it is looking a range of operational scenarios and routes. But important to this is customer experience, it added. This includes looking at custom cabin layouts, and business or first-class seating. As with other supersonic developers, Virgin Galactic is eyeing the use of sustainable fuels.
“We are excited to complete the Mission Concept Review and unveil this initial design concept of a high-speed aircraft,” said George Whitesides, chief space officer for Virgin Galactic. “We have made great progress so far, and we look forward to opening up a new frontier in high-speed travel.”
For Rolls-Royce, this is the second announced participation in a supersonic program in recent weeks. The engine-maker, which partnered with Snecma to provide the Concorde’s Olympus 593 powerplant, also is collaborating with Boom on its Overture program.