London to Melbourne in 90 minutes? Paris to San Francisco in under an hour?
That’s travel at 25 times the speed of sound — or barely enough time to take in an in-flight movie.
Few areas of aviation generate wilder predictions than hypersonic flight — but a team in Germany might just have cracked it.
Hypersonic means speeds of Mach 5 or over, or more than five times the speed of sound. Supersonic is Mach 1, or the speed of sound.
Since the withdrawal of the Concorde in 2003, commercial aviation has remained purely subsonic, but that could change in the coming decades.
Take new aircraft concepts like the Japanese HYTEX, capable of speeds of Mach 5, or the EuropeanLapcat-II, expected to reach Mach 8.
Then there’s the nascent space tourism industry, with companies such as Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace hoping to take a select few on leisure trips to the edge of space.
Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are taking their own approach.
A team has applied space technology principles to propose what is possibly the world’s most advanced hypersonic airliner concept to date.
The result of 10 years of ongoing research by the Space Launcher Systems Analysis (SART) department at the Institute of Space Systems in Bremen, the SpaceLiner is a revolutionary hypersonic spaceplane concept capable of flying some 50 passengers across the globe at speeds of up to 25 times the speed of sound.
It’s based on a two-stage concept, not unlike the Space Shuttle, where both the booster and passenger stages start in an upright configuration.
Propelled by 11 rocket engines during launch (nine on the booster stage and two on the passenger stage) the system accelerates into the mesosphere using traditional cryogenic rocket propulsion.
Once the booster stage is empty, the smaller passenger vehicle separates from the booster stage and continues accelerating, flying autonomously, just like an aircraft — except that it does so while reaching astonishing speed of up to Mach 25.
After reaching a maximum altitude of about 80 kilometers, the passenger stage commences a gliding descent towards its destination.
Not only is the SpaceLiner concept incredibly fast, it’s also environmentally friendly.
It uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen (LOX/LH2) propellants so only water vapour is produced.
Most of the flight processes will be fully automated, but