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Hypersonic passenger jet aims to fly from New York to London in 90 minutes
The Hermeus Corporation recently received seed funding to begin building a hypersonic jet that would travel twice the speed of the now-retired Concorde.
- The Hermeus Corporation, an Atlanta-based startup, said it'd take about 10 years to build its hypersonic jet.
- The era of commercial supersonic transport came to an end in 2003 when the Concorde was retired.
- Recently, many companies and nations have started investing in supersonic research, possibly signaling the return of the technology in commercial flight.
A U.S. aerospace startup company has secured a round of funding to develop a jet with the ability to fly from New York City to London in about 90 minutes.
The Atlanta-based Hermeus Corporation said it aims to build a jet with a cruising speed of 3,300 mph – more than four times the speed of sound. At that rate, it would take about 90 minutes to cross the Atlantic Ocean, while currently flights often last more than seven hours. If successful, Hermeus' aircraft would fly twice as fast as the now-retired Concorde, which could complete transatlantic flights in about three-and-a-half hours.
"We've set out on a journey to revolutionize the global transportation infrastructure, bringing it from the equivalent of dial-up into the broadband era, by radically increasing the speed of travel over long distances," AJ Piplica, Hermeus' co-founder and CEO, said in a statement on the company's website.
The company — whose four co-founders previously worked together at Generation Orbit, where they led the development of the Air Force's X-60A hypersonic rocket plane — said it would take about a decade to develop the aircraft.
"We have a ton of flying to do in that time – we'll have at least two smaller iterations of aircraft that we'll build, test, and learn from in that time," Hermeus co-founder and CEO AJ Piplica told CNN. "The main challenge is integrating the core technologies together and testing them. It's really difficult to recreate the Mach 5 environment on the ground, which calls for a rethinking of how we develop vehicles that operate in this environment. That means you have to fly. We have to build a lot of hardware and fly it early so we can learn and iterate quickly."
Hermeus said it expects a flight aboard its jet to cost about $3,000.
The return of hypersonic transport
The era of commercial hypersonic flights came to a close in 2003 when the Concorde was retired. It seemed supersonic transport was just too costly to justify, considering it took relatively massive amounts of fuel to propel jets at speeds of 1,350 mph. What's more, fewer passengers wanted to fly on the Concorde in the years following the crash of Air France Flight 4590.
But hypersonic transport seems to be making a comeback. In recent years, several big names in the aviation and aerospace industries have made strides to begin developing hypersonic aircraft:
- In 2019, Boom Supersonics plans to test fly a half-size prototype of its supersonic commercial jet, which the company says will be "history's first independently developed supersonic jet and the fastest civil aircraft ever built."
- In 2018, Lockheed Martin won a $241.5 million contract from NASA to build a supersonic plane that wouldn't produce a supersonic boom during flight.
- Also last year, Boeing unveiled a passenger-carrying hypersonic aircraft concept.
Why the renewed interest? One reason is that technology is breaking down prohibitive barriers in hypersonic transport: Engineers are working on ways to eliminate the sonic boom produced by hypersonic aircraft (a problem which had restricted the flight routes of the Concorde), and they've also made strides in building engines that can withstand the high temperatures produced by supersonic-capable engines.
The recent investments in hypersonic technology also signal that companies believe there's a market for hypersonic transport. After all, these aircraft could someday make it possible to attend a meeting on the other side of the planet and make it home for dinner.
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Got $55 million lying around? If so, you might be able to score a spot aboard the International Space Station starting 2024.
- NASA awarded a contract to startup Axiom Space to attach a "habitable commercial module" to the International Space Station.
- The project will also include a research and manufacturing module.
- The move is a major step in NASA's years-long push to privatize.
Image: Axiom Space<p>But first, space-tourist-hopefuls would have to pass through physical and medical exams, and 15 weeks of expert training. After that, the trip sounds pretty comfy:</p><p>"There will be wifi," Suffredini <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/style/axiom-space-travel.html" target="_blank">told the New York Times</a> last year. "Everybody will be online. They can make phone calls, sleep, look out the window. [...] The few folks that have gone to orbit as tourists, it wasn't really a luxurious experience, it was kind of like camping. [...] Pretty soon we're going to be flying a butler with every crew."</p>
A render of the ISS tourist experience.
Image: Axiom Space<p>In a blog post, NASA wrote:</p><p>"Developing commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit is one of <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-opens-international-space-station-to-new-commercial-opportunities-private" target="_blank">five elements</a> of NASA's plan to open the International Space Station to new commercial and marketing opportunities. The other elements of the five-point plan include efforts to make station and crew resources available for commercial use through a new commercial use and pricing policy; enable private astronaut missions to the station; seek out and pursue opportunities to stimulate long-term, sustainable demand for these services; and quantify NASA's long-term demand for activities in low-Earth orbit."</p>
NASA's push to privatize the ISS<p>When a Russian rocket launched the first module of the ISS into space in 1998, NASA expected the space station to operate for about 15 years. But the agency has extended the life of the ISS twice, with funding currently set to expire in 2024. NASA spends between $3 and $4 billion per year operating and shuttling astronauts to and from the station. That's a decent chunk of the agency's $22.6 annual budget. What's more, the "major structural elements" of the ISS are certified only through 2028.</p><p>Meanwhile, NASA has been eyeing other projects, namely: putting humans back on the moon in 2024 and establishing a lunar presence. So, to save and redirect money, the agency has been starting to hand over the aging space station to the private sector, which could use it for commercial research and space tourism.</p><p>But some have questioned the move to privatize the ISS, including NASA's own inspector general, Paul K. Martin.</p><p>"An obvious alternative to privatization is to extend current ISS operations," Martin wrote in a <a href="https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/CT-18-001.pdf" target="_blank">2018 report</a>. "An extension to 2028 or beyond would enable NASA to continue critical on-orbit research into human health risks and to demonstrate the technologies that will be required for future missions to the Moon or Mars."</p>
Image: Axiom Space<p>Martin noted that "research into 2 other human health risks and 17 additional technology gaps is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2024," meaning that any slip-ups in the process would mean such research might go uncompleted. He also wrote that it's "questionable" whether the private sector could turn a profit on the ISS without "significant" government funding. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, <a href="https://docs.house.gov/meetings/SY/SY00/20180517/108302/HHRG-115-SY00-Wstate-LalB-20180517.pdf" target="_blank">also found</a> that it "is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025."</p><p>The implication is that, if the ISS is handed over to the private sector, taxpayers could end up indirectly supporting space tourism for the ultra-rich. Whether that's worth any of the research benefits that might come from the ISS post-2024 is anybody's guess.</p><p>As the ISS enters its final years, China <a href="http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-10/17/c_138479514.htm" target="_blank">plans</a> to complete construction of a manned space station in 2022.</p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
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