DARPA partners with Boeing to launch next-gen spaceplane

The project will compete with SpaceX and Blue Origin to launch small satellites into orbit. The market for reusable launch vehicles just got hotter.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has stated it will be investing up to $146 million in an alliance with Boeing in order to build an experimental spaceplane that can launch small satellites into orbit on a daily basis.

Known as XS-1, the project is projected to debut in 2020.

Boeing declined to comment on the quantum of funds it is going to sink into the vehicle which it calls Phantom Express.

The XS-1 is likely to be the size of a business jet. It will take off like a rocket and boost itself into the reaches of the outer atmosphere where it will release its expendable second-stage rocket and satellite. It will then turn around and return to earth and land like an airplane on the runway.

The objective of this project is to design and build the next generation of reusable launch vehicles which are cost effective and can compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

“The reusable first stage … would be prepared for the next flight, potentially within hours,” wrote Jared Adams, DARPA’s spokesman in an email.

One of the objectives of the XS-1 program is to be able to fly 10 missions within 10 days.

The most probable launch site will be Cape Canaveral, which houses two other Boeing space programs.

Unlike the X-37B which, which is launched into orbit using an expendable rocket, the XS-1 will launch itself into space powered by a liquid-fueled Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine.

Its design should be such so that it can launch satellites weighing up to 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) into low-altitude orbit.

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