DARPA begins development of experimental XS-1 spaceplane
Re-usable, unmanned craft intended to reduce cost of space payload transport.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that it has begun Phase 1 development of its experimental XS-1 program. The U.S. agency’s
goal is create a fully-reusable unmanned vehicle that can deploy small satellites to orbit using expendable upper stages.
Using a reusable first stage, the XS-1 would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude, at which point one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into low earth orbit. The reusable first stage would then return to earth, land and be prepared for the next flight.
For Phase 1, DARPA’s goal is to create a demonstration vehicle and has awarded prime contracts to aerospace partners Boeing/Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems/XCOR Aerospace and Northrop Grumman/ Virgin Galactic.
“We chose performers who could prudently integrate existing and up-and-coming technologies and operations, while making XS-1 as reliable, easy-to-use and cost-effective as possible,” Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager. “We’re eager to see how their initial designs envision making spaceflight commonplace—with all the potential military, civilian and commercial benefits that capability would provide.”
Key XS-1 technical goals include flying 10 times in 10 days, flying to Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative small payload to orbit. The program also seeks to reduce the cost of access to space for 3,000- to 5,000-pound payloads to less than $5 million per flight. Similar launches currently cost undreds of millions of dollars each, the agency says.