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DARPA's XS-1 sets goal of space launches with one-day turnaround

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September 20, 2013

Artist's concept of the XS-1 spaceplane

Artist's concept of the XS-1 spaceplane

Currently, launching satellites is an involved and expensive process. DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program hopes to make this a thing of the past, by developing a shuttle-like resuable launch system that can turn around from landing to relaunch in one day, and bring down the cost of launching by a factor of 10.

We live in a fast-paced world where international situations can change overnight. Areas that were once stable and peaceful can suddenly turn into hotbeds of war and crisis. To deal with these security threats, the United States relies, in part, on its fleet of military surveillance satellites. Unfortunately, whereas a threat can pop up suddenly, satellites can only be launched from a handful of locations, plus they require the logistics of a small war to launch, and take years and hundreds of millions of dollars to put into orbit. This makes putting assets in space on short notice a herculean task.

To cut down on these problems, DARPA started its XS-1 program, aimed at developing a new breed of spaceplane. The agency envisions this as a modular craft with automatic launch, flight, and recovery systems based on off-the-shelf technologies, yet one that would be capable of taking off from a "clean" pad. That is, one that doesn't have much more infrastructure or crew than would be needed to put a conventional transport plane in the air.

The XS-1 is nothing if not ambitious. DARPA wants the spaceplane to be able to launch 10 times over a 10-day period, fly in a suborbital trajectory at speeds in excess of Mach 10, release a satellite launch vehicle while in flight, and reduce the cost of putting a 3,000 to 5,000 lb (1,360 to 2,267 kg) payload into orbit to US$5 million.

"XS-1 aims to help break the cycle of launches happening farther and farther apart and costing more and more," says Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager heading XS-1. "It would also help further our progress toward practical hypersonic aircraft technologies and increase opportunities to test new satellite technologies as well."

DARPA is currently soliciting ideas and technical proposals for the project with an XS-1 Proposers’ Day scheduled for October 7.

"We want to build off of proven technologies to create a reliable, cost-effective space delivery system with one-day turnaround," says Sponable. "How it’s configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table – we’re looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible."

Source: DARPA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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9 Comments

Similar claims were made at the start of the shuttle program. 100s of missions, turn around in weeks, etc.

Most missions was Discovery at 39.

Tom Swift
21st September, 2013 @ 04:59 am PDT

So they want to produce a military version of the British Skylon space plane. The only problem with that is DARPA will have to buy, or steal, the SABRE engine design.

ivan4
21st September, 2013 @ 08:14 am PDT

Black Horse rides again!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Horse_%28spacecraft%29

I wonder if Mitchell Burnside Clapp is associated with this instantiation of the small military space plane?

He certainly is at DAPA now...

http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/TTO/Personnel/Mr__Mitchell_Burnside_Clapp.aspx

And working on Space Launch cost mitigation...

http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/TTO/Programs/Airborne_Launch_Assist_Space_Access_%28ALASA%29.aspx

Bob Ehresman
22nd September, 2013 @ 06:15 pm PDT

ivan4 - They don't need any of the SABRE's tech. The SR-71 Blackbird was built 50 years ago, and could go over mach 3, because it took off with a normal jet engine...which this DARPA one will likely do. Then it blocked off the air intake for the jet engine, and simply used the design of the outer portion of the intake to spray their fuel in that area where the air was being compressed (compressed because of the speed) and then continued on its was to mach 3+ speeds.

The biggest hurdle hasn't been the tech of engines, it has been HEAT. At those speeds the friction from the air heats up the outside of the aircraft and all of it's engine components as well. So, if you solve the heat problem, then you can build yourself a scramjet aircraft.

Derek Howe
22nd September, 2013 @ 07:39 pm PDT

Hmmm can't they do this with the Pegasus system with b-52 and f-15 ???

Leonard Foster Jr
22nd September, 2013 @ 09:11 pm PDT

Not really. Unlike Skylon and the Space Shuttle it's not intended to reach orbit, but to launch a rocket boosted payload while on a suborbital trajectory. That makes things a whole lot simpler.

Christian Thiel
23rd September, 2013 @ 12:02 am PDT

They said the same thing about the shuttle program whose major feature was supposed to be its re-usability and ability to rapidly turn around and re-launch providing lower cost access to space. History has shown how well that worked out...

While I realize it's not the actual definition of insanity repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time isn't real smart.

Jon Smith
23rd September, 2013 @ 08:24 am PDT

Joh Smith. The Shuttle (from a cost and operational perspective) failed because of some political decisions by the NASA admins and the use of the ceramic heat tiles. The ceramic tiles alone accounted for more than 17,000 person hours per launch form inspections and maintenance. Using a metallic thermal protection system solves that problem because they are more durable. Also the Shuttle's high wing loading lead to the massive amount of heat on the ship during reentry. The decision to use solid rocket boosters was made to keep ATK in business (the maker of our ICBMs).

Besides this thing isn't going orbital velocities, only mach 10 ;)

Gwyn Rosaire
23rd September, 2013 @ 11:30 am PDT

The space shuttle is an extremely bad design using the wrong fuel, and thus the dimwitted external tank and requiring a virtual rebuild between flights.

It should have had wings full of kerosine and the LOX tank double as inhabitable space when in orbit. The larger wing would have resulted in a cooler reentry, a lower landing speed, and when the SRB leaked fire it would have been against a heat shield instead of flammable insulation and a thin walled tanks of cryogenic liquids.

Slowburn
26th September, 2013 @ 06:16 pm PDT
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