DARPA awards phase 2 space plane contracts

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The competition heats up: The second phase contracts in the development of a reusable space plane have been awarded by DARPA.

DARPA has awarded $6.5 million each to three companies for developmental design work, including Boeing (in partnership with Blue Origin), Northrop Grumman (in partnership with Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic), and Masten Space Science Systems (in partnership with XCOR Aerospace).

The requirements are that the plane fly 10 times in 10 days, reach Mach 10+, put a 3,000 to 5000 pound payload in orbit, and cost less than $5 million per flight. In this new phase, the companies are to deliver finalized designs by 2016, with prototype development to follow.


  • David M. Cook

    What about Sierra Nevada Corp and their Dream Chaser? How does the DC fit into this profile?

  • Michael

    Worked on a number of those programs.

    Stated of as a means of finally getting cheap access to space. Then it was down-graded to a demonstration program. Then it morphed into a technology development program. Then everyone took an early lunch.

    Do not have much hope for this.

  • Edward

    It may depend upon how serious DARPA is to have this technology. When their self-driving vehicle competition (Grand Challenge) failed, a decade ago, they held another competition, where they had a winner. Now, people from the winning team are working at Google to develop a commercial self-driving car.

    On the other hand, the Grand Challenge was encouraged by an award to the winner, but this one is a series of contracts, so this could be just another way of “spreading around the wealth.”

    What I find most challenging on this competition is the 10 flights in 10 days. This means that the winner must launch, orbit, release its payload, return to the launch site, and be back on the pad and launching again in 26 hours. Consistently. With no delays.

    So far, the quickest that I have ever heard was SpaceX putting a rocket on a pad and having it ready for launch in a 24-hour period (engines may have been fired for a couple of seconds).

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