Experimental Spaceplane to Lower Costs, Increase Launch Efficiency

DARPA this month announced an Experimental Spaceplane program, dubbed XS-1, that is intended to reduce costs and help balance the demands of advanced planning for launches with last-minute federal budget authorizations. The program will develop a “fully-reusable unmanned vehicle that would provide aircraft-like access to space and deploy small satellites to orbit,” according to the agency’s website. Boeing, Masten Space Systems, and Northrop Grumman will work together on the vehicle, which will be “capable of carrying and deploying an upper stage to launch small satellite payloads of 3,000-to-5,000 pounds … into low-Earth orbit,” according to a Boeing release. According to a Masten statement, “the goals of the XS-1 program include designing and building a rocket capable of flying 10 times in 10 days,” in addition to the increased payload and decreased cost. “The vision here is to break the cycle of escalating space system costs and enable routine space access and hypersonic vehicles,” said Dennis Poulos, Masten’s XS-1 program manager. “The XS-1 program represents a return to the bold aerospace projects of decades past, when engineers from various government agencies came together to push the spaceflight envelope.” The Phase II competition, for production and initial demonstrations, will open in 2015.