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Japanese to test supersonic airliner

Prototype aims for Mach 2

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The SSTJapanese space agency JAXA will next month carry out a second crucial test in its Next Generation Supersonic Transport (SST) programme 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 programme 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".

The SST is part of a joint Japanese/French project to study the possibilities of a new supersonic airliner. The two countries are represented by various manufacturers including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. The partners have pledged around $5.4m over three years to the research. ®

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