Virgin Galactic and NASA to team up for super-speedy hypersonic flights

Virgin Galactic has huge wads of cash and NASA has lots of research chops, so the two plan to combine those strengths to develop this hypersonic plane that could go Mach 5, taking you from New York to LA in about 45 minutes. This kind of point-to-point speed is nothing new for the U.S. space agency, which has already tested a scramjet that can go twice that fast, hitting 7000-mph. The idea here is to make this super speed more financially feasible, opening it up to you and me.

The proposed space plane will be able to reach 3500-mph by flying up to 95,000 feet and higher, where there's very little air to slow it down. What, is this like that spacecraft we mentioned earlier that uses magnetic fields to move? Nope. This scramjet technology, which NASA has already proven to work with two test flights, compresses air into the plane's engine by using the shock waves developed by such intense speed. Once the plane gets up to supersonic speeds, this scramjet technology takes over, and it requires no moving parts.

How do we sign up?

While Virgin Galactic has plans to take tourists into space in 2009 on SpaceShipTwo for $200K a pop, that's just the first step in getting people accustomed to flying at such lofty altitudes. That'll prepare them for Virgin's true goal: quick, point-to-point, regularly scheduled flights aboard these hypersonic craft. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a hell of a ride.

National Geographic, via Oh Gizmo