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From a Supersonic Jet to a Tourist Spaceship: How Virgin Galactic Could Change Travel as We Know It

Aerion and Boom, the two front-runners in the revived supersonic-aviation race, could have some serious competition if the speed of Virgin Galactic’s new Mach 3 business jet matches the company’s projection of 2,300 mph. (How fast is that, exactly? Try New York to London in 90 minutes.) The renderings of the delta-wing design show a sleek profile, with an interior that will hold up to 19 passengers. Virgin is working with Rolls-Royce, which developed the original Concorde’s engines, on a new design intended to reach Mach 3 using sustainable aviation fuel, and recently passed a Mission Concept Review with NASA––a first (though very early) step toward FAA certification.

“We believe that high-speed commercial flight is the aviation experience of the future,” says Erik Axdahl, principal engineer of advanced design at the Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s sister enterprise. “We believe it can transform aviation and the way we view global travel.”

The timeline for Virgin’s supersonic jet has yet to be disclosed, but it’s undoubtedly still years away. Meanwhile, Aerion has begun wind-testing its design in France, and Boom says it’s testing the XB-1 (a.k.a. the Baby Boom) and the first flight will take place in 2021 as part of the development of its full-scale Overture aircraft. 

Closer to the present day is, remarkably, Virgin Galactic’s spaceship, SpaceShuttleTwo, which aims to bring private passengers more than 50 miles high into suborbital flight. And when founder Sir Richard Branson enters zero-gravity bliss early next year, he’ll float across an interior influenced as much by consumer feedback as rocket science. “We’ve worked with an incredible community of experts and future astronauts that wanted maximum views of Earth, HD digital cameras and the largest mirror on any commercial spaceship,” said Jeremy Brown, design director of Virgin Galactic, after revealing the ship’s interior. The company’s clean-sheet design “didn’t look to aviation,” according to Brown, but to “sport clothing and modern furniture.”

And, perhaps, to a Hollywood gaffer or two. The cabin’s “halo” lighting around its 17 windows is continuously altered for maximum emotional impact: soft and calming during initial takeoff; invigorating during “boost,” when the rocket engines kick in; then fading to black once in space.

And, perhaps, to a Hollywood gaffer or two. The cabin’s “halo” lighting around its 17 windows is continuously altered for maximum emotional impact: soft and calming during initial takeoff; invigorating during “boost,” when the rocket engines kick in; then fading to black once in space.

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