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6th August 2020

Virgin Galactic unveils Mach 3 aircraft design

Aerospace company Virgin Galactic has announced a first stage design scope for the build of a new aircraft capable of reaching speeds of Mach 3 (3,700 km/h, or 2,300 mph).

Rolls-Royce will collaborate with The Spaceship Company (TSC) – a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic – in designing and developing the engine propulsion technology for this high-speed commercial plane. This follows the successful completion of a Mission Concept Review (MCR) that included representatives from NASA and resulted in authorisation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It means the companies can now work together to produce a certification framework.

Rolls-Royce has a proven track record of delivering high Mach propulsion, powering the only civil-certified commercial aircraft capable of supersonic flight – Concorde, which flew from 1969 to 2003. This new plane, if successfully developed and put into operation, would be more than 50% faster than Concorde. Journeys across the Atlantic, which typically take almost eight hours in a conventional airliner, could be completed in less than two hours.


virgin galactic mach 3 future aircraft
© Virgin Galactic 2020


"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 unrivalled customer experience," said George Whitesides, Chief Space Officer at Virgin Galactic. "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. We have made great progress so far, and we look forward to opening up a new frontier in high speed travel."

"We are excited to partner with Virgin Galactic and TSC to explore the future of sustainable high speed flight," said Rolls-Royce North America Chairman and CEO Tom Bell. "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 mach 3 future aircraft
© Virgin Galactic 2020


The basic parameters of the initial design include a targeted Mach 3 certified delta-wing aircraft with capacity for 9 to 19 people, and reaching an altitude above 60,000 feet. It would incorporate custom cabin layouts to address passenger needs, including Business or First Class arrangements. The aircraft design also aims to help lead the way toward use of state-of-the-art sustainable aviation fuel. Baselining sustainable technologies and techniques into the aircraft design early on is expected to act as a catalyst to adoption in the rest of the aviation community.

The MCR concluded that the team can progress to the next phase of design – which consists of defining specific system architectures and configurations, and then determining which materials to use in the design and manufacturing. 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.

Virgin Galactic intends to design the aircraft for a range of operational scenarios, including service for passengers on long-distance commercial aviation routes. The aircraft would take off and land like any other passenger aircraft and be expected to integrate into existing airport infrastructure and international airspace around the world.



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