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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Japan tests supersonic jet model
Model of the supersonic jet being launched by rocket, 10 October 2005 (Image from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)

Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) has successfully tested a new design for a supersonic airliner.

An 11m (36ft) scale model was launched by rocket from the test site at Woomera in the Australian desert.

Officials at the aerospace agency said the test marked a major step forward in the development of supersonic flight technology.

When the real jet has been created, it should be able to halve the journey time from Tokyo to New York.

The prototype airliner was launched at 0706 local time on Monday for a 15-minute flight.

It separated from the rocket as planned at about 18,000m (59,400) before gliding through the air at speeds of up to Mach 2 and then parachuting to the ground.

"It went well, it was successful," a Jaxa spokeswoman told reporters soon after the model returned to Earth.

Three years ago, a similar test at Woomera ended in failure with the model crashing in flames.

Akira Murakami, from the Jaxa experimental team, said: "We are thinking that [supersonic transport] will be put into practical use sometime between 2020 and 2025.

Model of the supersonic jet being launched by rocket, 10 October 2005 (Image from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
It is a long road from scale model to commercial airliner
"In this sense, the technology of this newly designed main wing whose data that we acquired today is indispensable. With today's success, we think that we stepped forward toward the realisation of [supersonic transport] in the next generation."

The speeds envisioned for the new airliner are on a par with the recently retired Franco-British Concorde, but the new vehicle would have three times as many seats and be quieter and less polluting.

Some analysts, though, doubt the project's commercial viability. Concorde never recovered its development costs.

Japanese and French aerospace industry groups signed an accord in France in June this year to conduct joint research on a next-generation supersonic transport aircraft.

Jaxa has said it is considering offering technical cooperation to the groups, including providing the findings of the agency's experiments.

Monday's test at Woomera had been delayed for several days due to bad weather.

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