Competition On For Reusable Unmanned Spaceplane Design


Three aerospace teams will compete for a military contract to further develop their ideas for a reusable unmanned spaceplane that can make daily flights over a ten-day period. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced this week it will hold a publicProposers Day on April 29 to discuss the second and third phases of its XS-1 booster vehicle program, which seeks to provide a means for cheaper and faster satellite launches. DARPA’s first phase included preliminary contracts to three bidders: Boeing Co. with Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems with XCOR Aerospace, and Northrop Grumman Corp. with Virgin Galactic. Each team came up with their early designs in 2014.

The spaceplane would be about the size of a business jet and fly to suborbital altitudes, deploy a satellite and return. According to DARPA, the XS-1 demonstration vehicle must be able to fly to altitude ten times in a ten-day window and use a low-cost, upper-stage expendable rocket. It also must be capable of launching payloads of 900 to 1,500 pounds. The long-term goal is to enable payloads of at least 3,000 pounds using larger rockets, for a cost of about $5 million per flight. DARPA has $140 million in funding for the XS-1’s design, assembly and flight test phases.