NASA is exploring the idea of a passenger jet that could theoretically fly from New York City to London up to “four times faster” than today’s airliners.

In a recent news release about NASA’s research into supersonic commercial travel, the agency said that the passenger jet would theoretically travel between speeds of Mach 2 and Mach 4 — between two and four times the speed of sound, or 1,535-3,045 mph at sea level. By comparison, today’s larger passenger planes cruise at about 600 mph, or about 80% of the speed of sound, NASA said.

The agency also concluded that there are about 50 established routes connecting cities for potential passenger markets.

Since the U.S. and other countries prohibit supersonic flight over land, NASA said it was looking into transoceanic routes across the Atlantic and Pacific. 

Concept illustration of a Boeing high-supersonic commercial passenger aircraft.

Boeing /

This development comes as the agency is conducting another research mission known as Quesst, which involves NASA’s X-59 “quiet supersonic aircraft.” Quesst explores technology that “reduces the loudness of a sonic boom to a gentle thump to people on the ground” in an effort to convince regulators to change supersonic flight rules.

“These new studies will both refresh those looks at technology roadmaps and identify additional research needs for a broader high-speed range,” project manager Lori Ozoroski said.

NASA has issued two year-long contracts to companies to develop concept designs and technology roadmaps that would include outlining risks and challenges in making Mach 2+ travel possible. Boeing will lead the first team; Northop Gruman Aeronautics Systems will lead the second.

“It’s important to innovate responsibly so we return benefits to travelers and do no harm to the environment,” Mary Jo Long-Davis, manager of NASA’s hypersonic technology project, said in a statement.