This morning, Richard Branson’s space travel company Virgin Galactic unveiled its proposed supersonic jet design. The company claims that the final version of the aircraft can carry 9 to 19 passengers at speeds of Mach 3, or three times faster than the speed of sound. Virgin Galactic’s main focus is its space travel business, which is trying to send paying customers to the edge of space and return on the company’s space plane. But over the years, Virgin Galactic has also expressed interest in using its space technology to develop high-speed peer-to-peer travel. The concept requires suborbital rockets to take people from one point on Earth to another in less time than a typical aircraft.
Recently, Virgin Galactic has focused on supersonic jets, rather than suborbital rockets, to get travelers to where they want to go as quickly as possible. In May, the company announced that it had received some help from NASA to develop its supersonic jet. NASA, which has decades of experience in supersonic aircraft technology, is currently developing a “silent” High Maher jet called the X-59 QueSST. Thanks to NASA’s help, Virgin Galactic says its supersonic jet design has passed a mission concept review, which means that the design concept meets the mission’s high-level requirements and objectives.
In addition to announcing new supersonic jet designs, Virgin Galactic also announced another partnership with Rolls-Royce, this time to develop the thrusters needed for the aircraft. The two companies have signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) to carry out this work.
Virgin Galactic outlined some details about the craft, noting that it would fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet and that it would help lead the state-of-the-art sustainable aviation fuel use, but there is still much to answer about how long it will take and how long it will cost to develop the craft. With a capacity of only a dozen passengers, fares seem unlikely to be reasonable for ordinary people. Virgin Galactic, for example, costs $250,000 for a travel space plane. The company said the supersonic jet could be expensive. Today’s announcement comes ahead of Virgin Galactic’s quarterly earnings conference call, which is scheduled to close later today.