Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has signed a deal with Rolls-Royce to develop a new commercial aircraft capable of travelling at three times the speed of sound.
Rolls-Royce, which provided the engines for the Mach 2 Concorde, the world’s only civil-certified supersonic aircraft to date, is tasked with creating a new propulsion system that is sustainable and cutting-edge.
The new Mach 3 delta-winged aircraft will be designed to fly at 60,000 feet and take off and land at existing airports. While the jet is being described as a commercial aircraft, it will only be designed to carry between nine and 16 people.
“We are excited to complete the Mission Concept Review and unveil this initial design concept of a high speed aircraft, which we envision as blending safe and reliable commercial travel with an unrivalled customer experience,” said George Whitesides, chief space officer, Virgin Galactic.
The Mission Concept Review, which included representatives from NASA, confirmed that the design concept can meet the requirements and objectives of the plan. Previously, NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Virgin Galactic to collaborate on high speed technologies.
“We are excited to partner with Virgin Galactic and TSC to explore the future of sustainable high speed flight,” said Rolls-Royce North America chairman and CEO Tom Bell. “Rolls-Royce brings a unique history in high speed propulsion, going back to the Concorde, and offers world-class technical capabilities to develop and field the advanced propulsion systems needed to power commercially available high-Mach travel.”
The jet will be able to incorporate custom cabin layouts to address customer needs, including Business or First Class seating arrangements. The aircraft design also aims to help lead the way toward use of sustainable aviation fuel.
The MCR concluded that the team can progress to the next phase of design, consisting of defining specific system architectures and configurations, and determining which materials to use in the design and manufacturing of the aircraft. The team will also work to address key challenges in thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions, and economics that routine high speed commercial flights would entail.
Virgin Galactic said it is working closely with international regulatory communities to ensure compliance with safety and environmental standards.
Last week the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation reviewed the project direction and authorised FAA resources to work with the Virgin Galactic team to begin to outline a certification framework during the pre-project guidance phase.