Breakthrough hypersonic plane could travel anywhere in the world in 1-2 hours, and it's hydrogen-powered

Is this the future of hypersonic transportation? Russia's version of Elon Musk thinks so.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

You can't eliminate distance, but in near-space, where there's little air resistance, you can move pretty dang fast. In laymen's terms, that's the founding principle of a company that's developing a hypersonic hydrogen-powered vehicle capable of moving cargo between continents at unheard of shipping speeds.

Destinus SA, based in Switzerland, is on a mission to build near-space vehicles and related infrastructure, and the company just got a big boost in the form of a seed round of 26.8 million Swiss francs ($29 million). Founder and CEO Mikhail Kokorich is akin to Russia's Elon Musk, a serial entrepreneur who invented (and actively holds patents) on innovative enabling technology in newspace. His previous company, Momentus, is now one of six Y Combinator companies to become public.

"We are excited about the broad support for Destinus, says Kokorich, "which further validates the potential for clean, hypersonic travel to anywhere in the world in 1-2 hours. We plan to use the funding to continue the development of our hydrogen airbreathing and rocket engines and test the first supersonic flights powered by hydrogen engines in the next 12-18 months. We have already made significant progress and have designed and filed patents for the unique subsystems, such as a hydrogen active cooling system, enabling a highly reusable hyperplane flying at almost the speed of a rocket."

The vehicle is designed as a hybrid between an airplane and rocket that takes off and lands horizontally from airports using a hydrogen-fed airbreathing jet engine. In this way, it will integrate with other planes when it passes through controlled airspaces. However, once a certain altitude and speed are reached, the hyperplane will switch to a cryogenic hydrogen rocket engine that will accelerate it to a hypersonic velocity.

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"It is breathtaking to see a future in which travel anywhere in the world in 1-2 hours will be available," comments Destinus' chairman of the Advisory Board, the former minister of Economics and Technology, and the vice-chancellor of Germany, Philipp Rösler. "Most importantly, the hyperplane under development will use liquid hydrogen to fuel its engines. That gives the great opportunity to fly fast and at the same time be carbon neutral. The only emission of such engines is water. I am excited that companies like Destinus will be able to provide European leadership in the aerospace sector."

Global aerospace is undergoing a major rethink thanks to a number of technologies that seem primed to leap out of the development phase. Autonomous air travel via vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles, for example, is edging closer to reality thanks to forthcoming testbeds. Several companies are also in the hunt to create an electric future for air travel via custom vehicles and electric conversions. And the commercial space sector, a practical fantasy as little as a decade ago, is booming with new players and growing payloads.

Into that fray, a hydrogen-powered hypersonic rocket plane may not be as far afield as it sounds at first. Hydrogen is being considered seriously by major aerospace companies as the fuel of the future. Airbus, for example, has set a target date of 2035 to roll out zero-emission hydrogen-powered planes. Smaller startups like ZeroAvia are bringing a hydrogen-electric concept to smaller commuter jets.

All to say, we're in a moment of radical reimagining for aerospace. Whether your Prime package will be moving at hypersonic speeds in the future remains to be seen.

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