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Virgin Galactic Unveils Mach 3 Aircraft Design for High Speed Travel. (Photo Courtesy of Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic Unveils Mach 3 Aircraft Design

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. unveiled its design for a new high-speed commercial passenger aircraft on Monday, taking a key first step by signing an important supplier partner for the aircraft’s engines, the company announced in a press release.

The initial supersonic design is targeting an aircraft capable of Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, using a delta-wing aircraft. Virgin Galactic said the aircraft would be capable of carrying between nine and 19 passengers and would cruise at an altitude above 60,000 feet.

While supersonic travel on previous designs such as the Concorde and SST was eventually phased out due to cost inefficiency, financial analysts believe this has changed given the demand for high-speed travel is expected to rise and because of the advancement in new designs and technologies that have improved efficiencies. Last year, Morgan Stanley analysts predicted that $800 billion in annual sales for hypersonic travel was feasible by 2040.

Virgin Galactic hopes to conduct test flights as early as 2023 or 2024 and recognizes it is entering the high-speed commercial aircraft race late. Other companies also pursuing similar concepts include Boom Supersonic, Aerion Supersonic and Spike Aerospace.

Virgin Galactic, initially a company focused on space tourism, released the first stage design scope for the build of its high-speed aircraft design today, and also announced it has agreed to sign a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Rolls-Royce to collaborate in designing and developing engine propulsion technology for high-speed commercial aircraft.

“We are excited to partner with Virgin Galactic to explore the future of sustainable high-speed flight,” said Rolls-Royce North America Chairman & CEO Tom Bell in the statement. “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.”

Virgin Galactic also announced the successful completion of its Mission Concept Review program milestone and authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation to work with Virgin Galactic to outline a certification framework.

“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 unrivaled customer experience,” said Virgin Galactic Chief Space Officer George Whitesides in the press release. “We are pleased to collaborate with the innovative team at Rolls-Royce as we strive to develop sustainable, cutting-edge propulsion systems for the aircraft, and we are pleased to be working with the FAA to ensure our designs can make a practical impact from the start.”

In addition to high-speed flight, engineers hope to make use of new sustainable fuels in the new aircraft design, making it a design target parameter from the earliest moments of concept development.

The next steps for the design team will be 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.

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