- Venus Aerospace is a US startup developing a Mach 9 hypersonic jet known as Stargazer.
- The ultra-speedy plane would carry up to 12 people and fly some 5,000 miles in just one hour.
- Insider spoke with Venus’ co-founders to learn about the recent developments and the obstacles ahead.
The last time humans witnessed supersonic travel was the legendary Concorde, which operated from 1973 to 2003. Equipped with four powerful engines, the super-speedy plane could journey from New York to London in less than four hours — a tremendous feat for the era.
However, the aircraft’s costly inefficiencies and risky operation forced airlines to retire it after 30 years of service. No manufacturer has yet been able to recreate the days of the Concorde, but some are trying.
However, some ambitious engineers are hoping to fly even faster, including European startup Destinus, Georgia-based Hermeus, and Texas-born Venus Aerospace — all of which are developing hypersonic planes.
Venus, in particular, was only founded in 2020 but has big plans for Mach 9 travel. Insider met with company co-founders CEO Sassie Duggleby and CTO Andrew Duggleby at the Paris Airshow in June to learn more about their planned jet, dubbed “Stargazer.”
According to Venus, the jet is being developed to fly at Mach 9, or nine times the speed of sound. That equates to about 5,000 miles per hour.
By comparison, the Concorde flew at about Mach 2, Overture is being built for Mach 1.7, and Hermus and Destinus are designing their hypersonic planes for Mach 5.
He explained Stargazer would take off using traditional jet engines. Once it is away from city centers, it would switch to rocket engines to climb to 170,000 feet and reach hypersonic speeds.
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Most passenger airlines fly around 40,000 feet, meaning Stargazer’s planned cruising altitude is about 130,000 feet higher — though still not high enough to touch space.
“We were on deployment in Japan when we were looking out at Tokyo Bay one afternoon and Andrew turned to me and said there’s this new rocket engine coming down the pipeline,” Sassie told Insider. “And, he said if it’s ever proven, then we can put it on a plane and be home in an hour.”
Andrew explained that today’s rocket engines burn subsonically, which would not be enough power for Stargazer.
But, supersonic combustion would produce enough thrust for hypersonic flight. This led Venus to build the RDRE.
Rocket engines, in general, are also preferred because they offer much better performance at higher altitudes compared to jet engines because they do not feed on outside oxygen, which is much thinner at 170,000 feet.
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
In October 2022, Venus became the first company in the world to engineer “room temperature storable liquid fuels” to operate in an RDRE: “We now have both the technical knowledge and engineering to fully advance into next steps of development and flight testing,” Andrew said at the time.
via The Aviationist
The fictional jet is the SR-72 “Darkstar,” which doesn’t actually exist but is an unmanned hypersonic plane concept proposed by Lockheed Martin as a successor to the SR-71 “Blackbird.”
US Air Force
Sassie described Maverick’s fictional actions as “flying through the soup of the atmosphere.”
This would also effectively allow Venus to use traditional materials that are lightweight, like titanium — no need for a robust fuselage with heat shields or other heavy protections.
Andrew also addressed the concern of micrometeorites in the atmosphere, but pointed to Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic as examples of “public engineering that show how they would handle it.”
Sassie said in a press release that Venus’ RDRE “demonstrates a double-digit percentage increase in efficiency over standard regular engines, making the hypersonic economy possible.”
Competing planemaker Destinus is using the same design on its “Destinus S” and “Destinus L” passenger planes, both of which are also at least a decade away.
Andrew also explained that the climb to 170,000 feet will be smooth to ensure passengers do not experience G-force: “We’re looking for this to be for everyday people,” he told Insider.
A typical Concorde ticket cost $6,000 one-way in the late 1990s. The most-frequent Concorde flyer is Fred Finn, who flew on the supersonic plane 718 times and spent over $2.5 million (about $4.4 million today) on seats until the jet’s retirement in 2003.
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images.
Venus research revealed business travelers are willing to pay more than a regular first class ticket price if they can cut long-haul flying to only one hour. Current first class airfare on carriers like Emirates and Singapore Airlines is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Things like airport infrastructure and air traffic control flows have not been written into law and will require a lot of research and testing.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 will amend the prior act of 2018 with improvements to things like safety and technology, as well as current guidance and policy.
Hermeus is a US startup tapped by the US Department of Defense to build a hypersonic Air Force One. It competes with Venus.
Venus told Insider it is aiming to introduce Stargazer in the 2030s, which is one track with Destinus’ timeline for its “Destinus S” hypersonic plane.
Andrew explained that Venus is continuing to test the engine in partnership with Airbus Ventures, and it will soon be put onto a drone for further development.