NASA on Tuesday took another step towards re-introducing supersonic flight with the award of a contract for the design, building and testing of a supersonic aircraft that reduces a sonic boom to a gentle thump.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company of California, was selected for the Low-Boom Flight Demonstration contract, a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract valued at $247.5 million. Work under the contract began April 2 and runs through Dec. 31, 2021.
Under this contract, the world's largest arms manufacturer will complete the design and fabrication of an experimental aircraft, known as an X-plane, which will cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph and create a sound about as loud as a car door closing, 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB), instead of a sonic boom, NASA said in a press advisory.
Once NASA accepts the aircraft from the contractor in late 2021, the agency will perform additional flight tests to prove the quiet supersonic technology works as designed, aircraft performance is robust, and it’s safe to operate in the U.S. National Airspace System.
Beginning in mid-2022, the U.S. Space agency will fly the X-plane over select U.S. cities and collect data about community responses to the flights. This data set will be provided to U.S. and international regulators for their use in considering new sound-based rules regarding supersonic flight over land, which could enable new commercial cargo and passenger markets in faster-than-sound air travel.
"The X-plane will help NASA establish an acceptable commercial supersonic noise standard to overturn current regulations banning commercial supersonic travel over land," Lockheed said. Lockheed and NASA have partnered for more than a decade to enable the next-gen of commercial supersonic aircraft.
The aircraft will be built at the Lockheed's facility in Palmdale, and will conduct its first flight in 2021.