(Web Desk) – NASA’s first large scale, piloted X-plane in more than three decades is cleared for final assembly and integration of its systems following a major project review by senior managers held Thursday at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The X–59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST), to give it its full name, is an experimental jet being developed by the space agency, with a specific aeronautic design intended to cut down on sonic booms when the aircraft reaches supersonic speed.
The ambitious proof-of-concept project is the result of long years of research and development, and the design just passed a major technical hurdle this week, receiving clearance for final assembly, as announced by NASA.
The management review, known as Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D), was the last programmatic hurdle for the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft to clear before officials meet again in late 2020 to approve the airplane’s first flight in 2021.
“With the completion of KDP-D we’ve shown the project is on schedule, it’s well planned and on track. We have everything in place to continue this historic research mission for the nation’s air-traveling public,” said Bob Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for Aeronautics.
The X-59 is shaped to reduce the loudness of a sonic boom reaching the ground to that of a gentle thump, if it is heard at all. It will be flown above select U.S. communities to generate data from sensors and people on the ground in order to gauge public perception. That data will help regulators establish new rules to enable commercial supersonic air travel over land.
Above is the image of the X-59 main assembly coming together.
Construction of the X-59, under a $247.5 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, is continuing at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company’s Skunk Works factory in Palmdale, California.
Three major work areas are actively set up for building the airplane’s main fuselage, wing and empennage. Final assembly and integration of the airplane’s systems – including an innovative cockpit eXternal Visibility System – is targeted for late 2020.
What that means is that the X–59 is on track to have its first test flight in 2021, the details of which will be confirmed and approved next year.
Management of the X-59 QueSST development and construction falls under the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator project, which is part of NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program.
In the 1960s, the development of supersonic passenger aircraft promised to revolutionise the concept of international travel, teasing flights from New York to Paris in under 3.5 hours – less than half the duration of conventional subsonic jaunts.
With the famed Concorde, that incredible travel time became a luxurious reality for rich jetsetters, but the extreme noise pollution of sonic booms unleashed by aircraft breaking the speed of sound helped ground the supersonic dream.