NASA has announced plans to start developing jets that can fly at hypersonic speeds, potentially drastically reducing the time it takes to fly to destinations around the world. The long term aim of the project would be to come up with the technology that would allow a reusable aircraft to make a journey to Mars and back.
The initial aim of the US space agency is to create a vehicle capable of travelling at Mach 5, or five times as fast as the speed of sound. Concorde was capable of speeds up to Mach 2. Such an aircraft would mean the current flight time between Sydney and New York of 21 hours would be slashed to around two-and-a-half hours.
The NASA aircraft would have to be able to be reused after carrying passengers at high speed through the atmosphere, make a descent and land. NASA claims it is aware that producing such a craft will be a challenge; especially if the ultimate aim is space flight.
In its proposal, the space agency states that the challenge will be to come up with viable materials and coatings for those materials as they will have to withstand extreme heat whilst at the same time being reusable. The structure of the craft will have to be very resilient to extreme thermal loads as well as lightweight and durable.
The current proposal is that NASA will allocate funds of $5 million each year for the next three years in order to turn the idea into reality.