At the UK Space Conference in Wales on Tuesday, CEO of UK Space Agency, Graham Turnock, spoke about a plane capable of flying at Mach 5.4. That speed would allow passengers to travel from the UK to Australia in as little as four hours. (A direct route is still in the making and will likely take about 20 hours.)
The plane would be powered by a hypersonic engine. In addition to previously-unconquered speeds, this engine would be powered by a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, making it much more environmentally friendly and cheaper than current airplane engines, according to Stuff.
The team is already testing the engine on the ground and hopes to have a space plane in the air for test flights by the mid-2020s. If the project remains on track, commercial flights could begin in the 2030s.
Humans have not had commercial supersonic flight since the Concorde completed its last flight in 2003. It took less than three hours for regular service between New York and London onboard the Concorde.
But this new plane would take that to the extreme. It would be a hypersonic aircraft, capable of traveling five times the speed of sound. Hypersonic air travel is difficult to execute because often the engine will overheat. This speed is routinely achieved by fighter jets, but they have complex cooling systems, far beyond what a typical commercial aircraft would carry.
The Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre, as this model is being called) would make hypersonic travel an option for the commercial passenger. It could also switch to “rocket mode” and travel at Mach 25, launching passengers into space.
The UK is not the only agency working on a super-fast new plane model. Boeing is also working on a hypersonic jet that would debut in the 2030s. NASA’s supersonic jets could be taking passengers from New York to Los Angeles in as little as three hours, as early as 2021.