Jetsetters longing for a return to supersonic travel might soon be in luck. The U.S. space agency NASA is pushing for a new passenger jet that looks set to fill the void left by Concorde. NASA has awarded a $20 million contract to California-based Lockheed Martin for the design of what it calls a "low boom" flight demonstration aircraft. "NASA is working hard to make flight greener, safer and quieter – all while developing aircraft that travel faster, and building an aviation system that operates more efficiently," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement released Monday. "We're continuing that supersonic X-plane legacy with this preliminary design award for a quieter supersonic jet with an aim toward passenger flight," the statement read.
The Lockheed Martin contract is to design a 'low-boom' passenger aircraft that would emit a soft thump rather than huge bang. The lower noise could open up more destinations than was available to the now retired supersonic jet, Concorde. At full speed Concorde was so loud that jurisdictions in the U.S., India and elsewhere restricted its progress to slower than the speed of sound. According to NASA, a more detailed design and build of the new high speed aircraft will fall under a future contract.
The new design is the first in a series of "X-planes" in NASA's New Aviation Horizons initiative, with the first manned test flight scheduled for 2020.
But NASA isn't the only firm developing supersonic passenger jets. Aerion is a specialist in supersonic flight and according to its website, partnered with Airbus in 2014 to develop the new AS2 aircraft. The AS2, scheduled to enter service by 2023, could theoretically halve the current London to New York time, said Aerion in a press release. Private jet company Flexjet has already placed an order for 20 of Aerion's AS2 aircraft. It's been more than a decade since the last commercial flight of Concorde. It had 27 years in service with British Airways and could fly from London to New York in three hours.