NASA's Quesst: Supersonic flight ready for take off

With the dimensions of a blue whale, the X-59 can be a spaceship or a military jet fighter

This is an artist's concept NASA's X-59 QueSST (photo: NASA/ZUMAPRESS.com/picture alliance via DW)
This is an artist's concept NASA's X-59 QueSST (photo: NASA/ZUMAPRESS.com/picture alliance via DW)
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At 30 m long, 10 m wide (98 ft) and with a pointy nose, the X-59 is NASA's promise to kick-start a new age of supersonic flights — a plane that would allow people to fly from one continent to another, across oceans, in just hours.

With the dimensions of a blue whale, the X-59 could be a spaceship or a military jet fighter. This is a "new chapter" in supersonic flight, said the space agency's Peter Coen, integration manager for the 'Quesst' mission.

What are supersonic flights?

They are aircraft that can travel at speed greater than the speed of sound. While they are incredibly fast, they also generate shockwaves accompanied by a deafening explosion-like sound. The shockwaves are so strong, they can shatter glass.

Efforts to roll out commercial supersonic jets — like the Concorde — failed as they were very loud, too expensive to operate and just inconvenient to integrate within the existing system.

How is X-59 different?

The first step is to showcase how the X-59 is quieter than its predecessors, and then get regulators to lift a ban on faster-than-sound flight over land.

They are calling it Quiet SuperSonic Technology — because it's the stuff that should enable the X-59 to produce a mere sonic "thump" rather than an ear-splitting sonic "boom" as it reaches its highest speeds.

NASA has a 70-year history of studying supersonic flight. It says it has spent years developing the new airplane with partner Lockheed Martin, using the latest in wind-tunnel testing and advanced computer simulation tools.

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