Japan to resume supersonic jet tests

Japanese space agency JAXA will next month carry out a second crucial test in its Next Generation Supersonic Transport (SST) program by strapping an 11.5m-long miniature version of its experimental airliner to a rocket and accelerating it to Mach 2 over Australia's Woomera testing range.

JAXA has high hopes for the SST, which it sees as a successor to Concorde, and potentially capable of carrying 300 passengers at twice the speed of sound. The test - coming three years after the first trial ended in crash-and-burn when the vehicle detached prematurely from the booster rocket - will see the SST carried to an altitude of 12.4 miles before release at Mach 2. After a 15-minute flight, the SST will float gently to earth by parachute.

JAXA spokesman Takaaki Akuto said on Tuesday that the agency had "made some improvements" to ensure a successful outcome, admitting: "This is a pretty important test."

The success of the SST program ultimately depends on tackling two problems which limited Concorde - fuel consumption and noise. JAXA hopes the aircraft's shape, use of new composite materials and advances in jet engine technology will address both issues, stating that a full-blown SST would be able to travel twice the distance of Concorde while "producing one quarter of the nitrogen oxide emissions and having noise levels no greater than today's conventional jumbo jets," reports The Register.

The first flight test failed over Woomera when the rocket carrying the plane crashed immediately after launch. That plane cost about 1 billion yen to construct.

The failure brought to a standstill Japan's plans to pursue an experiment that incorporates use of a jet engine and the country's next-generation supersonic transport project.

If the second test flight succeeds, according to Koji Izumi, flight program director of JAXA, the agency can again propose use of an experimental jet.

In June, Japanese and French aerospace industry groups signed an accord in France to conduct joint research on a next-generation supersonic transport aircraft as a successor to the Concorde passenger jet that went out of service in 2003, reminds The Japan Times.

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