DARPA announces Phase 2 of spaceplane project

DARPA announces Phase 2 of spaceplane project
Artist's impressions of the XS-1 launcher
Artist's impressions of the XS-1 launcher
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Artist's impressions of the XS-1 launcher
Artist's impressions of the XS-1 launcher

DARPA has announced thesecond phase of its ambitious XS-1 program. The agency is seeking tomake access to space more regular and affordable by employing anentirely re-usable high-speed, sub-orbital automated spaceplane asthe first stage of its launch vehicle.

Upon reaching adesignated height, an expendable upper stage would separate from thespace plane, and insert a payload into low-Earth orbit (LEO). Thespaceplane would then autonomously land and be serviced for the nextlaunch.

Phase 1 of the programsaw DARPA award contracts to three companies, each ofwhich was paired with a launch service provider. Theteams were tasked with analyzing the feasibility of the project, anddesigning their own versions ofthe launcher.

"During Phase 1 ofthe XS-1 program, the space industry has evolved rapidly and weintend to take advantage of multiple impressive technological andcommercial advances," states Jess Sponable, program manager for theXS-1. "We intend to leverage those advances along with our Phase 1progress to break the cycle of escalating DoD space system launchcosts, catalyze lower-cost satellite architectures, and prove thatroutine and responsive access to space can be achieved at costs anorder of magnitude lower than with today's systems."

Phase 2 will integratestate-of-the-art technologies in combination with the advances madein Phase 1 of the program to design and fabricate a functioninglauncher roughly the size of a conventional business jet. Whereasmultiple contracts were offered in the first stage of the program,DARPA only envisions awarding a single commitment in Phase 2.

The second stage of theinitiative will have four primary technical goals.

  • Fly 10 times in a 10-day period (not including weather, range and emergency delays) to demonstrate aircraft-like access to space and eliminate concerns about the cost-effectiveness and reliability of reusable launch.
  • Achieve flight velocity sufficiently high to enable use of a small (and therefore low-cost) expendable upper stage.
  • Launch a 900 to 1,500-lb (408 to 680-kg) representative payload to demonstrate an immediate responsive launch capability able to support both DoD and commercial missions. The same XS-1 vehicle could eventually also launch future 3,000+-lb (1,361-kg) payloads by using a larger expendable upper stage.
  • Reduce the cost of access to space for 3,000+-lb payloads, with a goal of approximately $5 million per flight for the operational system, which would include a reusable booster and expendable upper stage(s).

According to DARPA thefinal design will make use of advanced heat-resistant materials,cryogenic tanks and modular subsystems that will combine to lower thecost and reduce downtime. Conventional rocket-based launch providerscan only offer a limited number of launch slots each year, and thelaunches are booked years before the launch time.
Even the Ariane 6,Airbus Safron Launchers' next-generation rocket, will offer only 12launches per year. Employing a reusable spaceplane has the potentialto provide cheaper, more flexible access to LEO. Beyond finding itsuses in the commercial sphere, the XS-1 project will be used toassure American military satellites can be launched more frequently.

Source: DARPA

Derek Howe
Cool, and definitely needed. Access to space costs far to much, as much as SpaceX is doing to lower the costs, I think this will push the needed much further down.
I would like to see an independent cost analysis comparing the Space X system with the winged spaceplane 1st stage. The extra fuel to compensate for the extra weight, drag and cost of wings and complex landing gear might actually favor the Space X approach. Also, the capability to land on a floating platform downrange would seem to favor the Space X system.
I'd like to see someone trying the Reaction Engines SABRE single-stage-to-orbit hybrid rocket engine; some great new technology there... (
Neil Farbstein
VULVOX now has a patent pending on our super performance materials that will make next generation spaceplances possible.
US 14488452 "Ultrahigh Strength Nanomaterials And Methods Of Manufacture."
The patent details a general method of manufacturing high strength ultrafine-grained nanostructured carbon and carbide materials. Coatings, films, nanopaper, nanopaper laminates, fibers, and extended objects can be manufactured by applying the disclosed methods. The nanomaterials are useful for additive manufacturing of rapid prototyped objects. A variety of nanoparticle starting materials are divulged including but not limited to double walled carbon nanotubes, fluorinated graphene nanosheets, silicon nanowires, and boron nanoplatelets. The nanomaterials and ultra high strength articles manufactured from them will have applications including laparoscopic instruments, structural composites, heat sinks, heat spreaders, electromagnetic interference shielding, ballistic protection, aerospace components and also; gas turbines, wind power turbines, rotor shafts, ultra lightweight high capacity electrical cables and high current electrodes.
No, no no! Build the Space Elevator!
Wild Inflatable Space Elevator Idea Could Lift People 12 Miles Up
By Elizabeth Howell, Contributor | August 17, 2015
space. com/30272-space-elevator-inflatable-concept-patent. html
David A Galler
The shuttle was a success ,only from a psychosocial point of view .It would be interesting to find out ,what the technological achievements were which convince anybody that it is now practical.
what would it take to get launch costs down below 6 figures?
William Mosby
I wish them well, maybe technology has advanced enough for a winged vehicle to be cost effective. One other thing, I don't know if the program management realizes it, but "XS-1" was the original designation of the first airplane to exceed the speed of sound in level flight. It was changed to "X-1" before it accomplished that feat.
Stephen N Russell
Make a Manned version alone & give Virgin Galactic a run for the money alone. Needed for sure. Need HLLV type. Lisc & produce.