Japan this morning successfully tested an 11.5m-long propotype of its Next Generation Supersonic Transport (SST) at Australia's Woomera range.
The SST was carried to around 59,000 feet strapped under a rocket after which it separated and flew for 15 minutes at Mach 1.9-2 before parachuting back to earth. A Japanese space agency (JAXA) spokeswoman told AFP: "It went well, it was successful," which must come as a great relief to the agency after the first model crashed and burned three years ago when the vehicle detached prematurely from the rocket.
Back in August, JAXA spokesman Takaaki Akuto confirmed the agency had "made some improvements" to the SST. He admitted: "This is a pretty important test."
As we previously noted, the SST's success ultimately depends on tackling two problems which limited Concorde - fuel consumption and noise. JAXA reckons it can address these through the aircraft's shape, improved jet engines and the use of composite materials. It says the SST will fly twice the distance of Concorde and produce just "one quarter of the nitrogen oxide emissions, and having noise levels no greater than today's conventional jumbo jets*".
*Thanks to those readers who wrote back in August to point out that a Jumbo still makes one hell of a racket. Duly noted.