Supersonic Jet Climate Fears Not Relayed to NASA Brass

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Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028
Colleen Teubner (202) 464-2293 


Supersonic Jet Climate Fears Not Relayed to NASA Brass

“Major Concern” over Climate and Ozone from Independent Panel Buried


Washington, DC —The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) declares itself at “the forefront” of a new generation of supersonic air transport despite growing warnings about major adverse climate impacts, according to agency documents obtained by to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency’s embrace of widespread deployment of supersonic aircraft appears at irreconcilable odds with NASA’s own Climate Action Plan.

NASA has invested a half-billion dollars in developing new “quiet” supersonic technology to avoid the loud sonic booms that led to the ban on commercial supersonic flight over land in 1973. NASA’s prototype QueSST (short for Quiet Super Sonic Technology) X59 jet, built in partnership with Lockheed-Martin, is slated for launch, after several delays, this spring.

Supersonic jets leave a much bigger carbon footprint than current commercial aircraft because they burn 7 to 9 times more fuel. These supersonic emissions also stay in the atmosphere as much as 20 times longer. In addition, supersonic pollution is emitted higher in the stratosphere, causing more stratospheric ozone damage than conventional flights.

NASA’s 2022 Annual Program Review for its Commercial Supersonics Technology program contains the finding of a panel of independent technical management experts who categorized as a Major Concern “Not addressing climate and ozone impacts of supersonic aircraft.”

Despite that finding, the Program Review greenlighted further supersonic development, yet –

    • Did not report the independent panel’s concerns to NASA’s top echelons;
    • Its internal review panel found “no major concerns” because “There is no daylight… between the project and the mission integration office regarding key objectives and support” for the commercial supersonic technology program; and
    • Neither NASA’s Chief Engineer nor its Office of Safety and Mission Assurance raised climate or ozone issues despite their oversight roles.

“What is the point of convening an independent expert review panel if their input is going to be ignored?” asked PEER Litigation and Policy Attorney Colleen Teubner, who obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. “This latest program review represents a quality assurance failure by NASA.”

These developments stand in stark contrast to NASA’s own Climate Action Plan which posits as one of its principal goals –

“Advancing aeronautics research to reduce contributors to climate change…[and] supporting the aviation community’s goal to aggressively reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.”

“It is very hard to reconcile NASA’s big commercial supersonic investment with its climate goals,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that NASA’s senior aeronautics staff appears to have “gone native” in pursuit of new technology, regardless of consequences. “Suppression of these concerns shows a disturbing organizational silence NASA should correct.”


See independent panel’s “major concern” on climate and ozone 

Compare “no issue” finding by internal review 

Look at clime impact of SST air transport  

Examine NASA’s Climate Action Plan  

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