When you think about NASA, what pops into your head? For most people, it’s rocket ships, spacecraft, and mankind’s exploration of the universe. It’s a reasonable answer. The Apollo Program was a pinnacle of engineering and design, inspiring multiple generations of aerospace professionals — including the Aerion team. Compelled to watch every space launch as a child, our CEO Tom Vice, calls the Apollo-era NASA “incredible; filled with courageous people who showed what can happen when we take risks to benefit humanity.”
Yet, many people forget the “A” in NASA also stands for aeronautics, and it is this focus on flight closer to the Earth that has led the world’s leading aerospace agency to form an exciting new partnership with Aerion Supersonic.
NASA is keenly interested in the future of supersonic flight. As Aerion works towards finalizing the design and production of the AS2® Supersonic Business Jet (SBJ), the agency has been hard at work on its own new supersonic jet, the X-59. This experimental aircraft will act as a testbed for NASA’s research on supersonic airframes and equipment.
But Aerion and the NASA Langley Research Center have set their sights on far faster aircraft than the AS2® and the X-59. Aerion and the Langley Research Center are bringing together their considerable talents to conduct a joint R&D study with a singular focus: accelerating commercialization of ultra-high-speed (or “high-Mach”) and supersonic flight to accelerate point-to-point travel for those of us who don’t get from place to place via fighter jets.
As compared to the subsonic jets of today, the AS2® SBJ is already a high-speed aircraft that will cruise to destinations at speeds above Mach 1 (almost 1,000mph) while staying whisper quiet, thanks to Boomless Cruise™ technology. But the joint study with NASA will focus on next generation technology to enable “high Mach” cruising in the range of Mach 3 to Mach 5, approaching hypersonic flight.
Though seemingly out of this world, Aerion’s partnership with NASA didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, the company has worked with the agency on supersonic flight technology in a relationship stretching back to 2012. The expansion of this partnership promises to generate valuable data and technology research for both Aerion and NASA.
Vice recently commented on the collaboration, saying: “At Aerion, our vision is to build a future where humanity can travel between any two points on our planet within three hours. This partnership enables the development of technologies that will help realize such ultra-high-speed point-to-point global mobility solutions.” He added, “This endeavor will also improve United States’ competitiveness in efforts to produce technically feasible and commercially viable passenger aircraft for high Mach point-to-point travel.”
In the interim, the Langley Research Center and Aerion will work together to study the special challenges airplanes experience when cruising at high Mach speeds. The teams will explore the suitability of different propulsion systems and thermal management technologies designed to handle travel at such high speeds. The research group will also focus on integrated power systems and cabin technology. After all, it isn’t useful to be able to fly at Mach 5 if you need to wear a high-tech flight suit just to survive the trip.
Ultimately, this research is critical to Aerion’s goal of bringing the world closer together. As Carl Sagan notes in his famous book Pale Blue Dot, and as NASA proves with every launch, borders aren’t visible from space. They also start to blur when supersonic air travel shortens the distance between people. Or as Vice explained in a recent Forbes profile, “When all of us can get to any location on Earth within three hours, we can build empathy and connections across cultures, something we sorely need as a species.”
As Aerion enters the pre-production phase with the AS2® SBJ, its collaboration with NASA will enhance the work already underway on the company’s next generation, high-Mach passenger jet, the AS3™. This is another key step in maintaining Aerion’s focus on sustainability whilst shortening travel times to bring the world and its citizens closer together.