NASA’s supersonic aircraft X-59 successfully completes its critical ground tests

Will the space agency finally solve the sonic boom challenge?
Loukia Papadopoulos
NASA’s X-59 QueSST Airplane.NASA

NASA's X-59 aircraft has a very lofty goal: it is engineered to reduce the sound of sonic booms, allowing supersonic aircraft to surpass the speed of sound (767 mph) while flying over populated areas. Last month, we reported how it was undergoing critical ground tests in Forth Worth, Texas.

Now, NASA has revealed that the aircraft has arrived back at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in Palmdale, California, after successfully completing those tests, according to a press release by the agency published on Monday.

Ground tests completed

"Ground tests on the X-59 were done to ensure the aircraft’s ability to withstand the loads and stresses of supersonic flight – or flight at speeds faster than Mach 1. The vehicle’s fuel systems were also calibrated and tested at Lockheed Martin’s Ft. Worth facilities. With its return to California, the X-59 will undergo further ground tests as it approaches full completion of its development and continues to make progress on its way to first flight," wrote NASA.

Next steps planned

The following steps in the plane's evolution will see NASA and Japanese space agency JAXA take independent measurements of a small-scale model before comparing results. If all goes well, a target date will then be set for the first flight, expected to take place later this year.

Acoustic validation flights will be further conducted in 2023, followed by the planned community overflights in early 2024. After that, "NASA plans to deliver results of the community overflights to the International Civil Aviation Organization and Federal Aviation Administration in 2027," the space agency said in an earlier statement.

"With that information in hand, regulators will be able to decide if a change should be made in rules that prohibit supersonic flight over land – a decision that would be expected in 2028."

NASA’s ultimate goal is to solve the sonic boom challenge finally and unleash a future of commercial supersonic flight over land, reducing flight times drastically. Will it prove successful? 

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