Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

FUTURE

Virgin Galactic and Rolls-Royce partner to build new super fast aircraft

The group is seeking to develop a Mach 3 delta-winged aircraft that can travel at three times the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic is designing a Mach 3 Aircraft that can travel at three times the speed of sound. AFP Photo/Virgin Galactic  
Virgin Galactic is designing a Mach 3 Aircraft that can travel at three times the speed of sound. AFP Photo/Virgin Galactic  

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings will work with engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings to develop a plane that can travel at three times the speed of sound.

The recruitment of Rolls-Royce, which provided the engines for Concorde, the world’s only civil-certified supersonic aircraft to date, is aimed at devising a propulsion system that’s both cutting-edge and sustainable, Virgin Galactic chief space officer George Whiteside said in a statement on Monday.

The Spaceship, Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing division, is seeking to develop a Mach 3 delta-winged aircraft that would fly at an altitude above 60,000 feet and carry between nine and 16 people in a premium cabin, while taking off and landing like any other passenger plane at existing airports.

Plans for a return to supersonic passenger flight following Concorde’s exit from service in 2003 have been gathering pace over the past decade. That push has been called into question as aviation becomes a prime target for climate campaigners, with projects now facing the challenge of cutting carbon emissions and reducing noise as well as making flights viable.

The outline accord with Rolls-Royce comes after the Virgin Galactic programme cleared a mission-concept review that included representatives from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration backed work on an certification framework for the plane.

The next step will involve developing the design, deciding which materials to use, and addressing the carbondi oxide hurdle and problems posed by the sonic boom that comes with breaking the sound barrier, which were a major factor in limiting Concorde to a handful of routes, Virgin Galactic said.

The high-speed plane project is separate to Virgin Galactic’s main space venture, which aims to launch affluent adventure-seekers into sub-orbital flight before the end of this year, though the schedule could be delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic, has reduced his stake in the company to around one-third after selling shares to help raise money to support other group ventures including Virgin Atlantic Airways.

The partnership with Rolls-Royce comes after the UK engine maker last week announced a pact with Boom Technology, one of three start-ups that have been competing to bring a new supersonic market in the next few years.

Boom also holds tentative orders from Mr Branson’s Virgin Group, while the billionaire said in 2017 that Virgin Galactic would play a role in developing the fledgling company’s planned plane, building parts of the XB-1 demonstrator that’s due to be unveiled in October.

Virgin Galactic traded 2.5 per cent higher as of 10.09 am in New York on Monday and has almost doubled in price this year. Rolls-Royce declined 4 per cent and has lost two-thirds of its value in 2020.

Updated: August 4, 2020 05:18 PM

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