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The competition heats up: DARPA outlines its goals for its Experimental Spaceplane program (XS-1).
Key to the effort is DARPA’s recognition that since 2000 under the government’s EELV program, launch costs for the military had increased significantly, while the launch rates appears to slow.
According to DARPA’s presentation, the Pegasus, Minotaur, and Antares launch vehicles only fly one DoD mission per year at a cost of ~$55 million USD per flight.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 currently performs ~3-6 DoD missions per year at a contract price equal to or greater than $54 million USD per flight.
That price per flight then jumps dramatically for United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicle families – which currently perform about 8 DoD flights per year for a cost per flight in excess of $400 million USD. [emphasis mine]
ULA claims that they charge the Air Force an average of $225 million per launch. DARPA says it is $400 million. Either way, that is a lot higher than the $83 million that SpaceX charged for its first Air Force contract.
The article then provides a nice overview of the XS-1 program, which like NASA’s commercial space program is asking private companies to come up with the new designs and technologies rather than have the government try to do it. All DARPA is doing is laying out their basic requirements, fly 10 times in 10 days for less than $5 million per flight.
The program is now shifting to its second phase, which will call for actual construction proposals late this year, with the hope of test flights by 2019.