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“X-59”
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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  • October 26, 2020
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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  • October 19, 2020
NASA Marks Continued Progress on X-59
NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology X-plane, or QueSST, will fly over communities in the United States to demonstrate quiet supersonic. (Credits: Lockheed Martin)

by Matt Kamlet
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

PALMDALE, Calif. — Assembly of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft is continuing during 2020 and making good progress, despite challenges such as those imposed by the unexpected global pandemic.

NASA plans as early as 2024 to fly the X-59 over select communities on missions to gather information about how the public will react to the level of quiet supersonic flight noise the aircraft is designed to produce – if they hear anything at all.

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  • September 20, 2020
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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  • August 21, 2020
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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  • August 18, 2020
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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  • May 12, 2020
NASA Leadership Assessing Mission Impacts of Coronavirus

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2020 (NASA PR) — To protect the health and safety of the NASA workforce as the nation responds to coronavirus (COVID-19), agency leadership recently completed the first assessment of work underway across all missions, projects, and programs. The goal was to identify tasks that can be done remotely by employees at home, mission-essential work that must be performed on-site, and on-site work that will be paused.

“We are going to take care of our people. That’s our first priority,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Technology allows us to do a lot of what we need to do remotely, but, where hands-on work is required, it is difficult or impossible to comply with CDC guidelines while processing spaceflight hardware, and where we can’t safely do that we’re going to have to suspend work and focus on the mission critical activities.” 

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  • March 20, 2020
X-59 QueSST More than the Sum of Its Parts
NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft is being assembled at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® factory in Palmdale, California. (Credits: Lockheed Martin)

PALMDALE, Calif. (NASA PR) — A time-honored tradition employed by the aerospace community for decades is continuing with the assembly of NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology aircraft at the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® factory in California.

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  • March 14, 2020
X-59 QueSST Wing Assembly

The X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology, or QueSST, wing assembly is lifted by a crane and moved to another area of the manufacturing floor in preparation for wing skin installation. The aircraft is under construction at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® in Palmdale, California, and will fly for the first time in 2021. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

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  • January 23, 2020
NASA Looks Forward to Busy 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA will be taking long strides toward returning astronauts to the Moon, continuing the exploration of Mars and developing new technology to make supersonic aircraft fly more quietly.

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  • January 5, 2020