Wednesday , May 25 2022

Beyond Supersonic: These Startups Want to Bring You Hypersonic Travel

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They aim to send travelers hurtling across the skies at speeds faster than 4,000 miles per hour.

Andy Altman

Supervising Producer

Andy Altman is a producer covering all things science and tech. He led production on CNET’s award-winning limited documentary series “Hacking the Apocalypse”. He also created and co-hosts our video series “What the Future”. Before joining CNET in 2014 Andy spent ten years as a TV news producer, earning a local Emmy award and multiple Emmy nominations.

Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he’s planning his next vacation, walking his dog, or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).

Supersonic travel? That’s so 2021. 

While companies like Boom Supersonic and Lockheed Martin are investing in technology that would bring back commercial supersonic travel, a handful of startups are looking beyond the speed of sound to hypersonic travel, promising 90-minute flights from New York to London.

Though the definition of hypersonic isn’t set in stone, the term generally refers to an aircraft that can fly at Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. That translates to about 3,900 miles per hour, or a two-hour trip across the Atlantic. The supersonic Concorde, by comparison, flew at Mach 2.02, taking it from New York to London in three and a half hours.

While aircraft capable of safely carrying people at hypersonic speeds is likely at least a decade away, venture capital firms are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into startups like Hermeus and Venus Aerospace. To learn more about their aircraft and visions for the future of travel, watch the video above.

Atlanta-based Hermeus reveals its prototype Quarterhorse aircraft.

There are a host of challenges these companies must solve to make hypersonic flight a reality. They’ll need to build engines that not only can accelerate a vehicle to hypersonic speeds but also can maintain those speeds efficiently. They’ll also need to design aircraft that can withstand the intense heat generated from friction and air resistance during hypersonic travel.

Humans have traveled at hypersonic speeds before. In the 1960s, NASA’s X-15 rocket-powered jet flew faster than Mach 5 several times, peaking at Mach 6.7 (about 5,140 mph). Astronauts aboard NASA’s now-retired space shuttles would hit hypersonic speeds during reentry. 

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