There's more to NASA than exploring the universe and trying to build the first human colony on Mars. It's also planning to build the next-generation X-planes.
The space agency has recently launched the New Aviation Horizons Initiative with one specific goal in mind: to build new types of X-planes that will hopefully run on greener technology within the next 10 years.
X-planes are a common fixture in the history of NASA, and over the years, we've seen many unique types of planes like those that fly using jet or rocket propulsion technology. While some of them were successful and others were not, they illustrate that we can make planes with specific abilities.
Under its new initiative, NASA's goal is to make aircraft that will be less dependent on fossil fuels, which are not only hurting the environment but are more likely to increase costs in the future. The planes may also be capable of flying while reducing carbon emissions by as much as 75 percent per flight.
Further, "if we can build some of these X-planes and demonstrate some of these technologies, we expect that will make it much easier and faster for U.S. industry to pick them up and roll them out into the marketplace" said Ed Waggoner, director of Integrated Aviation Systems Program.
Meanwhile, NASA in February already awarded a contract to a unit that is led by Lockheed Martin, whose task is to come up with a preliminary design that will resolve one of the most common – and annoying – issues with aircraft, which is the sonic boom.
Sonic booms are the wakes of the soundwaves of the plane once it breaks the sound barrier or begins to travel faster than sound. First illustrated by X-1 in the 1940s, these booms may not be a one-time effect and may resemble many things depending on distance such as an explosion or fireworks display.
Either way, the sound created is so loud that it easily goes way beyond the comfortable threshold of 40 to 60 decibels.
Under the initiative and in this partnership, Lockheed will create an X-plane with Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) while receiving $20 million over the course of 17 months. The supersonic plane, which may fly by 2020, is expected to continue breaking barriers but this time as quietly as possible we might not even notice it.
If this becomes successful, it may already be possible for different aviation agencies to establish a more defined regulation for supersonic flights that can now fly across country. The last commercial flight of a supersonic plane was in 2003 by the Concorde, which had a speed of 1,354 miles (2,179 kilometers) per hour.
As to what more awaits in the pipeline, "we're going to let the marketplace and the community help us inform our decisions on the direction we want to go," expressed Waggoner.
Regardless, we have something very exciting to look forward to in the w`orld of aviation.