Tag Archives: XS-1

DARPA pushes its Experimental Spaceplane program forward

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.

Phase 2 begins in DARPA spaceplane program

The competition heats up: DARPA is about to start asking for proposals for the second phase of its XS-1 spaceplane program.

In Phase 1 of XS-1, DARPA sought to evaluate the technical feasibility and methods for achieving the program’s goals. To achieve that, it awarded prime contracts to three companies, each working in concert with a commercial launch provider: The Boeing Company (working with Blue Origin, LLC); Masten Space Systems (working with XCOR Aerospace); and Northrop Grumman Corporation (working with Virgin Galactic). Phases 2 and 3 will be competed as a full and open Program Solicitation mandating an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreement with the expectation of a single resulting award. Cost share is expected.

The primary goal is to build a vehicle that can fly ten times in ten days and put a small satellite into orbit.

Changes in DARPA rocket projects

In its budget request for 2017, DARPA has dropped one of its low-cost reusable launch programs while asking for more money for another.

The XS-1 project, where three teams, (Boeing/Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems/XCOR Aerospace, and Northrup Grumman/Virgin Galactic) are trying to develop a fully reusable launch system, will got a boost from $30 million to $50.5 million. Meanwhile,

DARPA is ending the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) launcher program after budgeting $80 million for it over two fiscal years. ALASA aimed at developing a rocket that could place a 100 lb (45 kg) payload into low Earth orbit for less than $1 million per launch using an unmodified F-15 fighter. Tests indicated that Boeing’s mono-propellant had a tendency to explode.

DARPA awards phase 2 space plane contracts

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.

DARPA awards contracts for XS-1 spaceplane

The competition heats up: DARPA has announced contract awards to three companies for the construction of its experimental XS-1 spaceplane, designed to take off and land like a airplane.

The contracts go to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Masten Space Systems, and have them each respectively partnered with Blue Origin, XCOR, and Virgin Galactic. More details on the Boeing contract can be found here.

The description of the XS program is quite exciting:
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DARPA opens the competition for awarding the first design contracts for a new experimental unmanned space plane, set to launch in 2017.

DARPA opens the competition for awarding the first design contracts for a new experimental unmanned space plane, set to launch in 2017.

DARPA has high expectations for the XS-1 program, which it hopes can eventually launch 3,000- to 5,000-lb (1,361 to 2,268 kilograms) payloads to orbit for less than $5 million per flight — and to do it at least 10 times per year….

DARPA officials laid out their broad vision of the robotic XS-1 vehicle in a press release issued in September: “XS-1 envisions that a reusable first stage would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude,” they wrote. “At that point, one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into low-Earth orbit. The reusable hypersonic aircraft would then return to earth, land and be prepared for the next flight.”

But DARPA is leaving the specifics of the XS-1 system — which aims to provide routine, aircraft-like access to space — up its potential builders, Sponable said. “We don’t care if it’s vertical take-off, horizontal land, vertical-vertical, which brings in a lot of the entrepreneurs,” he said in the FISO presentation. “We don’t care if they air-launch it, air-tow it, whatever. So we’ve left all those wide open.”

This DARPA program dovetails nicely with NASA commercial manned space program, as well as the emerging suborbital tourist industry. The combination should energize the reusable launch market quite effectively.