Virgin Galactic’s The Spaceship Company has revealed initial designs for its high speed vehicle and has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce to collaborate in developing engine propulsion technology for high-speed commercial aircraft.

Initial designs for the high-speed aircraft from the advanced air and space vehicle manufacturer would travel at three times the speed of sound (Mach 3). The aircraft would be expected to carry nine to 19 people at an altitude above 60,000 feet and would also be able to incorporate custom cabin layouts to address customer needs. The innovative aircraft design also aims to help lead the way toward use of sustainable aviation fuel.

Virgin Galactic’s design philosophy is geared around making high speed travel practical, sustainable, safe, and reliable, while making customer experience a top priority. The aircraft has been designed for a range of operational scenarios, including serving passengers on long-distance commercial aviation routes. The aircraft will integrate into existing airport infrastructure and international airspace around the world.

Successful completion of Mission Concept Review

The unveiling of the initial design follows the successful completion of its Mission Concept Review (MCR) programme milestone and authorisation from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation to work with Virgin Galactic to outline a certification framework. The MCR included representatives from NASA and the Virgin Galactic high speed team which confirmed that, based on the research and analysis work completed, its design concept can meet the high-level requirements and objectives of the mission. Previously, NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Virgin Galactic to collaborate on high speed technologies.

George Whitesides, Chief Space Officer at Virgin Galactic, said: “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. 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.”

Exploring the sustainability of high speed flight

Rolls-Royce North America Chairman & CEO Tom Bell added: “We are excited to partner with Virgin Galactic and TSC to explore the future of sustainable high speed flight 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.”

Last week the FAA’s Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation reviewed the project direction and authorised FAA resources to work with the Virgin Galactic team to begin to outline a certification framework during the pre-project guidance phase.
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