NASA Partners with ONERA on Low-Boom Supersonic Flight

The French Aerospace Lab will work with NASA to develop method of determining where sonic booms hit the ground.

The X-59 QueSST, developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, is designed to cruise at 55,000 feet at a speed of about 940 mph and create a sound about as loud as a car door closing, 75 Perceived Level decibel (PLdB), instead of a sonic boom. (Image source: Lockheed Martin)

Last week, NASA  and France’s Office National d'Etudes et de Recherches Aerospatiales  (ONERA) signed a research agreement to collaborate on mitigating sonic boom noise produced by supersonic aircraft.

The research hinges on developing an accurate method of determining where the sound waves of sonic booms will impact the ground as supersonic aircraft fly overhead. This work could lead to reducing the harmful ground effects of sonic booms and give way to safe, supersonic passenger flights over land.

The agreement, signed during bilateral meetings held in conjunction with the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show  in the United Kingdom, is the 12th agreement between the two organizations and the third that is still active.

“This partnership shows there is interest in supersonic travel all over the world,” says Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA aeronautics . “Solving the issue of annoying sonic booms could ultimately cut travel time to worldwide destinations in half.”

“This new partnership comes as a natural follow-up to a decade of successful cooperation between NASA and ONERA on the topic of aircraft noise mitigation, as well as an exciting perspective to revive the pioneering era of supersonic aviation,” said Bruno Sainjon, ONERA’s chief executive officer.

ONERA – internationally known as “The French Aerospace Lab” – is a public, application-based research establishment. The organization recently completed static ground vibration testing on the Airbus Beluga XL heavy lift cargo aircraft.

The cooperation under this agreement will create a forum through which NASA and ONERA can share technical knowledge and data in order to independently improve their own capabilities, with the overall objective of mitigating the effects of sonic booms produced by civil air transportation.

Both organizations will define common verification cases, use numerical tools to predict where sonic booms will reach the ground, and perform detailed analyses and comparisons of the results. NASA’s efforts toward this agreement complement work currently taking place at NASA’s Langley Research Center  in Virginia.

NASA has expressed commitments to conducting research that will enable a robust commercial supersonic market, including faster-than-sound air travel over land. The agency is currently vested in the development of the Lockheed Martin X-59 QueSST demonstrator aircraft through the Low-boom Flight Demonstration  mission. The X-59’s airframe has been designed in such a way that the sound produced when transitioning to supersonic speeds will be as quiet as a “gentle thump.”

NASA intends to fly the X-59 over select U.S. communities to gather data on human responses to the low-boom flights and deliver that data set to U.S. and international regulators, with the end goal of overcoming public health and safety concerns related to supersonic flight over land.

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

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