NASA's New X-Plane Could Revamp Supersonic Flight With Noise-Quieting Tech

Richard Branson is rivalling NASA with his own supersonic plane

Richard Branson is rivalling NASA with his own supersonic plane

A tranquil plane could be coming quick.

The recent 2019 NASA budget request was, as Live Science sister site Space.com reported, light on science and funding for the International Space Station but heavy on commercialization and space exploration.

Last September, NASA engineers conducted aerodynamic tests on a 15 percent scale model of the aircraft in a wind tunnel, using the data collected to predict how it will perform and fly in low-speed flight. As the budget request notes, the move would not only cut cross-country flight times in half but also open a new market for United States companies to create jobs. It has ideas for a quieter alternative that could be adopted by commercial plane makers.

"The budget fully funds the Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator, an experimental supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) airplane that would make its first flight in 2021", according to the budget document.

Here's the problem the quiet supersonic craft could solve: When a plane moves slower than sound, the jet's sound waves arrive on the ground in pretty similar shape to how they left the engine (with perhaps a little distortion and pitch-shifting thanks to things like the Doppler effect.) But - as Pennsylvania State University's NoiseQuest lab explained on its website - when planes move faster than sound, they outrun their own engine noise, with the vibrations spreading out behind them through the air in a kind of invisible wake. The noise from a normal passenger jet's engine is incredibly loud, but all of those sound vibrations are spread out as the plane passes overhead, creating the low droning noise you usually hear rather than a single "boom".

People don't by and large like typical airplane terminal clamor, as the Noise Quest lab notes, and individuals unquestionably don't care for when that sound touches base in a progression of stunning accidents.

In June 2017, NASA announced its preliminary design, called the Quiet Supersonic Transport, which hopes to achieve a sonic boom 60 dBA lower than other supersonic aircrafts. No supersonic civilian jets have operated since the Concorde was retired in 2003, NASA wrote in a statement accompanying the budget. This would be significantly calmer than existing supersonic planes.

A NASA spokesperson previously said the space agency aims to create a boom "so quiet it will hardly be noticed by the public, if at all ... like distant thunder [or] the sound of your neighbour forcefully shutting his vehicle door outside while you are inside", according to media reports.

"Like the railways that brought American pioneers, business visionaries and pilgrims to tame the Wild West, these noteworthy new advances will open untold chances to broaden the scope of American activity and qualities into the new universes of space", the VP said. "And by fostering much stronger partnerships between the federal government and the realm of industry, and bringing the full force of our national interest to bear, American leadership in space will be assured".