NASA’s next-gen supersonic airliner will attempt to quietly break speed of sound

This year could be a significant one for NASA who are aiming to break the sound barrier without creating a sonic boom with their experimental X-59 plane.

Teaming up with aerospace company Lockheed Martin, the X-59 is scheduled to lift off this year and should it be successful, we could see a return of commercial airlines with the ability to travel faster than the speed of sound.

It's been 20 years since Concorde was retired, which was the last commercial supersonic airliner, as NASA and Lockheed Martin look to bring about the return of supersonic travel.

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The study of the perception of sound, known as psychoacoustics, is front and centre with NASA’s X-59.

Officially called the 'Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST', the goal of the mission is to replace the sonic boom with a gentler sonic “thump.”

The return of commercial supersonic flight will partly be based on what the human threshold is for sonic booms – a vital piece of information the mission is expected to achieve.

The magnitude of the mission means that strenuous testing must be taken with NASA already conducting psychoacoustics research in simulated environments.

The X-59 is scheduled to be flown over several US cities in 2024, with results set to be used to develop a better scale for measuring the loudness and intensity of sonic booms and ultimately to set limits on these levels.

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According to Lockheed Martin's website, the very design of the X-59 is meant to reduce the loudness of a sonic boom, turning it into “more of a sonic heartbeat".

Steve Miller, a mechanical and aerospace engineering researcher at the University of Florida, said: “Next time you fly, look out the window at the beauty of flight, and then ask yourself, ‘What would it be like to fly supersonic?"

“There’s definitely some magic to the whole thing.”


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