Mach 3 Photo: Virgin Atlantic.

MIAMI – Virgin Galactic has announced today the first phase of the design of the high-speed Mach 3 aircraft. Rolls-Royce will participate in the project.

Virgin Galactic signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Rolls-Royce to develop the engine propulsion technology of the model.

The aircraft is designed to perform a wide range of operational scenarios. These include integration in commercial aviation routes.

SpaceShipTwo in Flight.
Photo: Virgin Galactic.

Design Focus


The Spaceship Company (TSC), a manufacturer under Virgin Atlantic (VS), is the leader of the design team.

Virgin Galactic Chief Space Officer, George Whitesides said the design is focused on customer experience and environmental sustainability. Thus, TSC and Rolls-Royce are developing sustainable and cutting-edge propulsion systems.

The aerospace and space travel company further said that it is working with industry and government leaders in developing the aircraft.

On its part, Rolls-Royce North America Chairman & CEO, Tom Bell said they wanted to offer an advanced design for commercial high-speed travel.

Last year, Virgin Galactic and NASA agreed to work on various commercial space flights projects. Photo: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic, Rolls-Royce, NASA Partnerships


According to the announcement, the non-binding MOU includes the successful completion of the aircraft’s Mission Concept Review (MCR) program milestone. Then, authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation will follow.

From these requirements, VS expects to outline a certification framework.

As an advantage, Rolls-Royce has previously delivered Mach propulsion with the Concorde. Along with the Tu144, the Concorde was civil-certified as a commercial aircraft capable of supersonic flight.

The MCR includes NASA representatives, but the aerospace company already knows some procedures. The NASA and Virgin Galactic signed a Space Act Agreement to collaborate on high speed technologies.

At that stage, TSC has other advantages to meet its design concept with high-level requirements and objectives.

British Airways Concorde powered by four Rolls-Royce/SNECMA engines.

MCR’s Next Phase


The Mach 3 design features a certified delta-wing aircraft. This has a capacity for 9 to 19 passengers at an altitude of over 60,000 feet. Its performance comes from the use of state-of-the-art sustainable aviation fuel.

The basic design also offers custom cabin layouts including Business or First Class seating configurations.

As a result of these innovations, the MCR gave Virgin Galactic the green light to continue to the next phase of design.

The teams from both companies will have to define specific system architectures and configurations. Then, they will have to determine which materials to use in the design and manufacturing of the Mach 3.

According to the statement, the design teams also have to address key challenges. These include thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions, and economics on routine high-speed commercial flights.

Currently, U.S. law prohibits flight in excess of Mach 1 over land unless specifically authorized by the FAA for purposes stated in its regulations.

According to the FAA, as companies in the US and abroad are now taking a new look at supersonic air travel, lighter and more efficient composite materials, combined with new engine and airframe designs, may offer the potential for the introduction of a viable SST. 

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