Virgin Galactic planning Mach 3 commercial aircraft

Initial vehicle design backed by NASA

The aerospace tech-gurus at Virgin Galactic are not only busy preparing for the impending launch of commercial space flights on SpaceshipTwo, but they’ve also now revealed a vision for a new high-speed travel aircraft capable of speeds of Mach 3, or in layman terms, 3,700 kilometres per hour.

Virgin Galactic, in partnership with The Spaceship Company (TSC), this week released the first stage design scope for the build of the vehicle and announced the signing of a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Rolls-Royce, the company behind the only other commercial aircraft that was capable of supersonic flight, the now-retired Concorde. It had a maximum speed of Mach 2.04.

Rolls-Royce will collaborate in designing and developing the engine propulsion technology for the new aircraft.

© Virgin Galactic 2020

Virgin Galactic’s proposed high-speed aircraft will be an all premium class product with a capacity for nine to 19 people in a business or first class seating configuration and fly at altitudes above 60,000 feet. Like the Concorde the new aircraft will feature a triangular-shaped “Delta-wing” design, which was similarly adopted on NASA’s Orbiter space crafts.

“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 unrivalled customer experience,” said George Whitesides, Chief Space Officer, Virgin Galactic.

© Virgin Galactic 2020

Whitesides said the parties would collaborate to “develop sustainable, cutting-edge propulsion systems for the aircraft,” in accordance with a certification framework devised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“We have made great progress so far, and we look forward to opening up a new frontier in high-speed travel.”

The Mission Concept Review, which included reps from NASA, has determined the Virgin Galactic design concept can meet the high-level requirements and objectives of the mission. Just a few weeks ago NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Virgin Galactic to collaborate on high-speed technologies.

© Virgin Galactic 2020

The latest aircraft design also aims to help lead the way toward the use of state-of-the-art sustainable aviation fuel.

The design philosophy of the aircraft is geared around making high speed travel practical, sustainable, safe and reliable while making the customer experience a top priority.

Virgin Galactic is designing the aircraft for a range of operational scenarios, including service for passengers on long-distance commercial aviation routes. The aircraft would take off and land like any other passenger aircraft and be expected to integrate into existing airport infrastructure and international airspace around the world.

© Virgin Galactic 2020

Along with identifying the aircraft’s design architecture, configurations and materials to use in its manufacturer, the parties will also need to address “key challenges in thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions and economics that routine high-speed commercial flights would entail.”

All images © Virgin Galactic 2020

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