Venus Aerospace, a Houston-based aeronautical startup, has released more details on how it plans to develop its supersonic plane. If successful, the technology will be able to take passengers from Los Angeles to Tokyo in just an hour.
The Stargazer, as it was called, will be able to carry 12 passengers at a speed nine times the speed of sound — in the technical term, up to Mach 9. That is, equivalent to 7,000 mph (miles per hour).
The maximum altitude reached by the vehicle will be around 51 km, far below the Kármán line — 100 kilometers above Earth, which is generally considered the point where space begins.
In this way, the Stargazer will remain on the same level as space balloons that do not enter space. During the trip, passengers will have a good view of the curvature of the Earth.
The startup is led by Sassie and Andrew Duggleby, two former space engineers at Virgin Galactic, the commercial spacecraft company created by billionaire Richard Branson.
According to a statement from Venus Aerospace, the company has been working on the supersonic aircraft since 2020 and has already raised $33 million to build the plane, of which $1 million is government funding.
A portion of that money will also go towards building a hypersonic drone, according to the company. There aren’t many details about it as of yet.
The effective workforce of the startup has about 40 people. It operates from a hangar at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport, located in Harris County, Texas, in the United States.
How will the trip be?
Andrew Duggleby, the company’s CTO (Chief Technology Officer), told Forbes that the Stargazer will be able to take off from a standard aircraft runway using a jet engine to ascend to an altitude of approximately 10 km.
Then the jet is shut down and its inlet is closed, powering a liquid-fueled rocket engine. The rocket accelerates the aircraft to Mach 9 while ascending to a maximum altitude of 51 km. It takes about 10 minutes for the plane to reach Mach 9, a speed it maintains for another five minutes.
The rocket then leaves, and the plane becomes a hypersonic glider. It descends without energy towards its destination for 45 minutes.
Upon reaching the altitude of 10 km again, the jet engine is restarted and the aircraft joins the regular planes in the air traffic control queue for the vectors to land on the runway.
How much will it cost?
Stargazer tickets would be about the same price as a first-class ticket on a commercial airliner. The executive told the US Gizmodo website that several variables still need to be worked out to determine that price.
It is unclear when the company expects to have a full-scale prototype or when the aircraft will be ready for commercial service.
According to Duggleby, the first ground test of the Stargazer should not happen before 2025. Altogether, the aircraft still needs five or more years of flight tests to ensure safety, reliability and performance.
*With information from Forbes, US Gizmodo and Digital Trends