Boeing, DARPA to design, build, test experimental spaceplane

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Now, that project just took a huge leap forward: DARPA has announced that it's partnering with Boeing to build its next generation hypersonic space plane. During a mission the XS-1 will fly to the edge of space, deploy a second stage, and then return to Earth.

Boeing plans to incorporate other technology components into the technology demonstrator such as cryogenic composite propellant tanks, flight-termination systems and hybrid metal composite wings and control surfaces.

While DARPA's goal for the project is focused on bolstering "national security by providing short-notice, low-priced access to space", they are also encouraging companies to invest in the spaceflight technology.

In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, DARPA and Boeing are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of XS-1 technology, flying 10 times in 10 days, with an additional final flight carrying the upper-stage payload delivery system. Full test flights of the XS-1 will commence in 2020. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is collaborating with Boeing to fund development of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program.

Since it's DARPA, the project is focused on national security, and there's no doubt the Pentagon could save plenty of money and time by launching satellites via a low-priced space plane. The Phantom Express design smartly uses an upper stage to save on the energy costs. The vehicle will use an AR-22 engine, manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, instead of an engine from Blue Origin.

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Phase 3 will involve 12 to 15 test flights, which are now scheduled for 2020.

Through XS-1, the agency aims to facilitate a commercial service with recurring costs of $5 million or less per launch at an assumption of 10 flights per year.

"As one of the world's most reliable rocket engines, the SSME is a smart choice to power the XS-1 launch vehicle", said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. For example, in the case of the loss of a military or commercial satellite, the unmanned, reusable XS-1 could quickly be used to launch a replacement. The first of these flights won't include payloads, but the spaceplane will eventually test out sending payloads weighing 900 and 3,000 pounds into lower Earth orbit.

"We're delighted to see this truly futuristic capability coming closer to reality", said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, which oversees XS-1.

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