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DARPA Seeks Mach 10 Airplane-Like Vehicle

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking to build a "reusable hypersonic aircraft" capable of speeds beyond Mach 10 to deliver payloads of up to 5,000 pounds into low earth orbit for less than $5 million per launch. DARPA will more fully explain the project in October, but for now is seeking to develop an Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) project. The primary vehicle would carry and deploy an upper stage responsible for inserting payload into low earth orbit and be capable of 10 flights in 10 days. DARPA says the airplane-like main vehicle would reach hypersonic speeds at suborbital altitudes and the agency hopes to explore that capability for passenger transport, too.

The aircraft would carry expendable upper stages and place satellites or other payload into orbit while the aircraft returned to earth for a landing. DARPA intends to achieve aircraft-like operations of the delivery vehicle. Integrated advances sought as main features of the design project include low-maintenance thermal protection systems for the vehicle and robust airframe construction. DARPA is aiming for a product with a long service life and affordable propulsion system that meets a requisite high thrust to weight ratio. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Virgin Galactic are so far working on a similar project that aims to deliver payloads of significantly less weight (100 pounds).

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