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NASA has commissioned engineers to design a new kind of jet that can travel faster than the speed of sound, but without the telltale sonic boom. Instead, the aircraft will produce a soft thump as it breaks the sound barrier, which the researchers are adorably calling a "supersonic heartbeat".
It's hoped that the new jet could eventually fill the commercial gap left by the retirement of the Concorde - which travelled at twice the speed of sound and could get passengers from London to New York in just 3.5 hours - but without all the noise complaints.
From an engineering point of view, we've long had the ability to travel at supersonic speeds - which is generally anything over 1,234 km/h - but when we do, it triggers a sound explosion that can travel thousands of meters in a jet's wake, rattling houses and cars as it goes.
They've contracted aeronautical giants Lockheed Martin to complete a preliminary design of the aircraft for them, which they're calling Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST).
The project is the first in NASA's 'X-planes' series, which they introduced as part of their 2017 budget, and they hope that if all goes to plan, they'll be flight testing a scaled-down version of the aircraft by 2020.
The first step is for Lockheed Martin to develop some baseline aircraft requirements and, based on early research, outline a preliminary design for QueSST over the next 17 months. That design will then undergo initial testing, including wind tunnel validation, before NASA decides whether or not it'll be worth building.
2016.03.02 / 12:00