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Boeing to design XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane


Artists's concept of Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1). A Boeing photo

HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIFORNIA (BNS): US defence major Boeing plans to design a reusable launch vehicle for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in support of the US government's efforts to reduce satellite launch costs.

Under the $4 million preliminary design contract, Boeing plans to work on a reusable first stage launch vehicle capable of carrying and deploying an upper stage to launch small satellite payloads of 3,000 to 5,000 pounds (1,361 kg to 2,268 kg) into low-Earth orbit.

DARPA's Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) programme aims to develop a fully-reusable unmanned vehicle that would provide aircraft-like access to space and deploy small satellites to orbit using expendable upper stages.

XS-1 seeks to deploy small satellites faster and more affordably, and develop technology for next-generation hypersonic vehicles. It envisions that a reusable first stage would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude.

At that point, one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The reusable first stage would then return to earth, land and be prepared for the next flight.

Modular components, durable thermal protection systems and automatic launch, flight and recovery systems should significantly reduce logistical needs, enabling rapid turnaround between flights, according to DARPA.

Key XS-1 technical goals include flying 10 times in 10 days, flying to Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative small payload to orbit. The programme also seeks to reduce the cost of access to space to less than $5 million per flight.

In Phase 1 of XS-1, DARPA intends to evaluate the technical feasibility and methods for achieving the programme's goals.


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