Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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US Air Force Teams with Boom Supersonic for Government Executive Flight Program Exploration

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

DENVER, Sept. 8, 2020 (Boom Supersonic PR) – Boom Supersonic, an aerospace company building the world’s fastest commercial airliner, today announced that the company has been awarded a contract by the Air Force under its program meant to help fund innovations with future Air Force applications.

The contract will fund explorations of an Overture configuration designed for Air Force executive transport. The Department of Defense and the Air Force manage all air transport for executive branch top leadership, including Air Force One.

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Space Florida Invests in New Home of Aerion Supersonic

The AS2 is designed to fly at speeds up to Mach 1.4 or approximately 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) per hour. (Credit: Aerion Supersonic)
  • Space Florida makes a significant investment in Aerion Supersonics’ new state-of-the-art design and production campus, Aerion Park, in Melbourne, FL
  • Aerion breaks ground on Aerion Park later this year, creating at least 675 advanced technology and manufacturing jobs by 2026
  • Aerion adds to the growing technology corridor of cutting-edge aerospace companies in Florida

Exploration Park & Melbourne, FL (August 20, 2020) – Space Florida is pleased to announce it has finalized a multi-million-dollar investment in Aerion Supersonic to accelerate the hiring of employees and development of the company’s new state-of-the-art campus – Aerion Park – in Melbourne, Florida.

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Reaction Engines and Rolls-Royce Announce New Strategic Partnership Agreement

Credit: Reaction Engines

ABINGTON, UK (Reaction Engines/Rolls-Royce PR) — Reaction Engines Ltd and Rolls-Royce plc today announced a new strategic partnership agreement to develop high-speed aircraft propulsion systems and explore applications for Reaction Engines’ thermal management technology within civil and defence aerospace gas turbine engines and hybrid-electric systems.

“We have been working closely with Reaction Engines for the past two years, including exploring the potential of high-Mach systems for defence applications, and I am delighted that we are able to strengthen that relationship,” said Mark Thompson, Director of Global Strategy & Business Development, Rolls-Royce. “This partnership follows our recent announcements with Boom Supersonic and Virgin Galactic.”

“Reaction Engines’ thermal management skills, added to our suite of existing technologies and capabilities, will further assist us as we explore opportunities in supersonic and hypersonic aviation,” Thompson added. “Building on our many decades of innovation, we will also explore the use of Reaction Engines’ technology within our aerospace gas turbines and its potential application in future hybrid-electric propulsion systems, as we look to make flying ever more efficient and sustainable.”

Additionally, Rolls-Royce is making a further investment in Reaction Engines as part of a wider funding round. The two companies have been working together since 2018, including on the first phase of a UK Ministry of Defence contract to undertake design studies, research, development, analysis and experimentation related to high-Mach advanced propulsion systems.

“This strategic partnership is about developing market ready applications for Reaction Engines’ technology in next generation engines and is a significant step forward for our technology commercialisation plans,” said Mark Thomas, Chief Executive of Reaction Engines. “Our proprietary heat exchanger technology delivers incredible heat transfer capabilities at extremely low weight and a compact size. We look forward to expanding our international collaboration with Rolls-Royce, a global leader in power systems, to bring to market a range of applications that will transform the performance and efficiency of aircraft engines, enable high speed – supersonic and hypersonic – flight and support the drive towards more sustainable aviation through innovative new technologies.” 

NASA Takes Delivery of GE Jet Engine for X-59 Supersonic Demonstrator

The F414-GE-100 engine, which will power NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology X-plane (QueSST) in flight, is unboxed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The engine, one of two delivered by GE, is approximately 13 feet long, and will power X-59 on missions to gather information about how the public perceives the sounds of quieter supersonic flight. (Credits: NASA / Ken Ulbrich)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Mark the big one-of-a-kind engine, designed and built just for NASA, as delivered.

Nearly 13 feet long, three feet in diameter, and packing 22,000 pounds of afterburner enhanced jet propulsion, the F414-GE-100 engine is now at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California.

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Microgravity Research in LEO Added to Top U.S. R&D Priorities for FY 2022

NASA Astronaut Bob Behnken works within the Light Microscopy Module facility on the Capillary Driven Microfluidics investigation from 1Drop Diagnostics, Inc. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Trump Administration has added microgravity research in Earth orbit as one of the nation’s key research and development (R&D) priorities for the 2022 fiscal year.

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Boom Supersonic, Rolls-Royce Announce New Collaboration for Supersonic Overture Engine Program Design

XB-1 technology demonstrator (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

DENVER, July 30, 2020 (Boom Supersonic) – Boom Supersonic, an aerospace company building the world’s fastest civil aircraft, and leading industrial technology company, Rolls-Royce, today announced an engagement agreement to explore the pairing of a Rolls-Royce propulsion system with Boom’s flagship supersonic passenger aircraft, Overture.

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NASA, Lockheed Martin Face Budget, Schedule Challenges with Low-Boom Supersonic Demonstrator

Illustration of the completed X-59 QueSST landing on a runway. (Credits: Lockheed Martin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s X-59 Low Boom Flight Demonstrator (LBFD) Project is progressing well toward its first flight test at the end of 2021 or early 2022 even though its cost has increased and schedule has slipped, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG). (Full Report)

The ambitious project will test designs and techniques for reducing the sonic booms caused supersonic aircraft. If successful, the research would allow a new generation of supersonic transports to fly over land rather than being confined to over-ocean travel as the now-retired Concorde airplane was it carried passengers from 1976 to 2003.

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