Northrop Grumman gives early look at its XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane design

Northrop Grumman gives early l...
Northrop Grumman's preliminary design for DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 (Image: Northrop Grumman)
Northrop Grumman's preliminary design for DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 (Image: Northrop Grumman)
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Northrop Grumman's preliminary design for DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 (Image: Northrop Grumman)
Northrop Grumman's preliminary design for DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 (Image: Northrop Grumman)

Northrop Grumman, in partnership with Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, has unveiled the preliminary design it is developing as part of DARPA’s XS-1 Spaceplane project. Looking like a windowless update of a 1960s Dyna Soar orbiter, it’s the next step in producing launch systems that will dramatically reduce the costs of getting into orbit.

Key to DARPA’s brief is to develop a space-delivery system for the US military that will reduce costs by a factor of 10. DARPA also wants the XS-1 Spaceplane to be able to launch 10 times over a 10-day period, fly in a suborbital trajectory at speeds in excess of Mach 10, release a satellite launch vehicle while in flight, and reduce the cost of putting a 3,000 to 5,000 lb (1,360 to 2,267 kg) payload into orbit to US$5 million. Under DARPA contracts, Boeing, Masten Space Systems, and Northrop Grumman are working on their own versions of the spaceplane

The Northrop plan is to employ a reusable spaceplane booster that lifts off from a combination transporter/erector/launcher that needs only a minimal ground crew. In flight, the Northrop version of the XS-1 will take advantage of the company's experience in unmanned aircraft to use a highly autonomous flight system and will release an expendable upper stage, which takes the final payload into orbit while the XS-1 returns to base and lands on a standard runway like a conventional aircraft.

Northrop is working under a $3.9 million phase one contract to produce its first design and flight demonstration plan that will allow the XS-1 to not only act as a space launcher, but as a testbed for next-generation hypersonic aircraft. As part of this, the company is working with Scaled Composites of Mojave, which will be in charge of fabrication and assembly, and Virgin Galactic, which will handle commercial spaceplane operations and transition.

"Our team is uniquely qualified to meet DARPA's XS-1 operational system goals, having built and transitioned many developmental systems to operational use, including our current work on the world's only commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo," says Doug Young, vice president, missile defense and advanced missions at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "We plan to bundle proven technologies into our concept that we developed during related projects for DARPA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, giving the government maximum return on those investments."

Source: Northrop Grumman

Stephen N Russell
Produce for Cargo & passenger mode as well Make into wide body. Lisc to produce.
Why don't they use a "balloon" type lift system, that once a low orbit attitude is obtained can be released, (it would return to earth and be re-used), and the spacecraft can then "fire up" and do what it's mission is designed for. Then, for "re-entry", how about slowing it to a sub-space orbit, at almost a "stand-still" speed, and then utilize a parachute system to lower it to a "flyable altitude", at which point it could be flown to it's landing site? LESS FUEL, LESS HEAT, LESS EXPENSIVE, REUSABLE, and MUCH SAFER. But hey, what do I know? (Didn't some guy "skydive" from the outer limits of our atmosphere, just last year, setting a record, while utilizing a Balloon to get him up there?)
Observer: The guy weighed in at little more than 2 hundred pounds. Spacecraft and payloads are far larger. The balloon idea is not workable at this scale but soft structures that share features of parachutes and wings with some inflatable elements are ideas worth considering.
orbital velocity is about speed not altitude. the gravity at the edge of space is almost the same as standing on earth if you just go straight up.
For some strange reason it appears that only the US can have space-planes.
If the UK government had put in a few million pounds a couple of years ago there would be a working ground to space reusable plane. Google Skylon and/or Reaction Engines Ltd.
( - Ed.)