Virgin Galactic unveiled the initial artist’s design renderings of its supersonic passenger airliner on Monday, a sleek delta wing craft planned to cruise at a speed of Mach 3 at 60,000 feet.
The aircraft is projected to have a capacity of nine to 19 people that will “be able to incorporate custom cabin layouts to address customer needs, including Business or First Class seating arrangements,” the company said in a release on its website.
The announcement comes less than a week after the British firm, part of Richard Branson's Virgin Group conglomerate – which includes everything from banking and retail to airlines and publishing, unveiled the interior design of this tourism spaceship capsule, VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo.
Virgin also announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce – which shares its name and history to the famous luxury carmaker – to develop engines for the airplane. Rolls-Royce, which made the engines for the legendary P-51 and British Spitfire WWII fighter planes and the second-largest maker of aircraft engines behind General Electric, also built the engines used on the Concorde, one of only two supersonic commercial airliners ever to fly.
“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,” Rolls-Royce North America Chairman & CEO Tom Bell said.
Both the Concorde, which was in service from 1976 to 2003, and the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144, which had a passenger service life of only three years, flew at a cruising speed of just over Mach 2.
Virgin said it had completed its “mission concept review” – which included representatives from NASA – which concluded the “design concept can meet the high-level requirements and objectives of the mission.” NASA has previously signed a Space Act Agreement with Virgin to collaborate on high-speed technologies.
The MCR enables Virgin to advance to the next phase of design. That will include specific system architectures and configurations, selecting materials needed in the design and manufacturing of the aircraft and address thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions and economics.
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