Skip to main content

Virgin Galactic wants to reach Mach 3 with its new commercial aircraft design

Virgin Galactic doesn’t only have designs on commercial suborbital flights, taking paying space tourism customers to the edge of space — it also wants to create a high-speed commercial aircraft to whisk passengers high above the clouds to take them to their destinations on Earth.

The company has unveiled its new aircraft design, which will travel at speeds of up to Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound. The craft will flight at a very high altitude of over 60,000 feet — considerably higher than standard commercial aircraft, which typically fly at altitudes of between 30,000 and 40,000 feet.

Virgin Galactic Unveils Mach 3 Aircraft Design for High Speed Travel Image 5
Virgin Galactic unveils Mach 3 aircraft design for high-speed travel Virgin Galactic 2020

The aircraft will be able to carry between nine and 19 people, and Virgin Galactic says it will have options for custom cabin layouts which could include business class or first-class seating. There is no indication of what kind of prices customers might expect to pay for a ticket, but given the high-status appeal of the aircraft, we can bet it won’t be cheap.

Virgin Galactic says it will work with Rolls-Royce to develop the propulsion systems for the aircraft, which the company’s chief space officer, George Whitesides, says will be sustainable and cutting-edge. Rolls-Royce pointed to its history of high-speed aircraft propulsion, including creating the turbo jet, which powered the groundbreaking but ultimately ill-fated faster-than-sound jet Concorde.

In the last few years, Virgin Galactic has made it known that it intends to put on super fast commercial city-to-city flights, and earlier this year the company signed a deal with NASA to collaborate on high-speed vehicles. Now, it has completed its Mission Concept Review for the craft, which included NASA representatives, which means it can now move on to the next stage of Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) authorization.

NASA has experience of its own with designing and building new aircraft, such as its supersonic X-59 plane or its experimental Maxwell X-57 plane which the agency showed off last year. The X-57 is powered by an electric cruise motor rather than the traditional combustion engine which should make it more environmentally friendly as well as being more efficient and quieter.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Virgin Galactic reveals how many $450K seats it’s sold for space tourism ride
Virgin Galactic's spaceplane soaring to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic has revealed that so far 100 people have each handed over $450,000 for a flight on its rocket-powered suborbital spaceplane.

That brings the total number of reservations for its upcoming space tourism service to 700, with the other 600 having paid $250,000 before the seat price was raised to $450,000 in the summer.

Read more
Virgin Galactic delays the launch of its commercial space tourism service
Virgin Galactic's space plane heading to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have emerged as the two leaders in the race to launch a commercial service for sub-orbital space tourism flights.

But while Blue Origin edges toward the launch of its own service -- following two successful crewed flights in three months -- Virgin Galactic has revealed it is delaying its own commercial launch from the middle of next year to the final quarter of 2022.

Read more
Virgin Galactic cleared to resume space flights following FAA investigation
Virgin Galactic's spaceplane soaring to the edge of space.

After being grounded by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation last month, space tourism company Virgin Galactic has now been cleared to resume its space flights.

The FAA was investigating what happened on the flight which carried Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson to the edge of space on July 11 this year. During that flight, the craft VSS Unity veered off course and a caution light was illuminated, according to a report in the New Yorker. The flight took off and landed safely, but the report raised concerns about the safety of the flight for those on board.

Read more