A massively expensive, but lightweight, incredibly strong and heat-resistant “super-material” may hold the key to finally making ultra-fast air travel a practical reality.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made headlines last month by promising the moon – well, not the moon, but the larger-than-life mogul did indicate that the very same rockets that will take man to Mars might also be employed to transport passengers anywhere on Earth in a matter of minutes. The tech magnate told a crowd of aviation industry leaders that the key to cutting down air travel times between destinations across the globe will involve sending aircraft into orbit.
Musk admitted that his vision for the future of aviation is just that – in the future. The reliable, reusable, vertical-landing rockets required for his ambitious plans for ultra-fast air travel are still far from a guaranteed reality.
Meanwhile, Newsweek reports that a NASA study of a boron nitride nanotube material is showing a great deal of promise towards solving a major obstacle to creating practical hypersonic passenger planes – finding a material that is incredibly strong, exceptionally lightweight and able to withstand unusually high temperatures. Researchers have found that the nanotube material far exceeds expectations on each of these counts. Unfortunately, the manufactured nanotube material currently costs approximately $1000 dollars a gram. NASA hopes that as technology advances and the pricey material becomes more widely used, the steep price tag will drop drastically.
Interestingly, the so-called “super-material” may also hold the key to making electric- and hybrid-powered passenger planes a much more practical concept as well. Weight and heat buildup have been persistent issues in the quest to take the fossil fuels out of the equation when it comes to commercial air travel – issues that a strong, featherweight, thermally stable material might just help to solve.