DARPA and Boeing to build supersonic space plane
DARPA and Boeing will be developing a supersonic space plane. the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space and Boeing was selected to develop, build and test the new hypersonic plane.
“The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager. “We’re very pleased with Boeing’s progress on the XS-1 through Phase 1 of the program and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in this newly funded progression to Phases 2 and 3—fabrication and flight.”
According to DARPA, Boeing’s plane will have to be fully reusable, with the size of a business jet, take off vertically, just like a rocket, and reach supersonic speeds.
The new jet will also have to rely on self-contained cryogenic propellants and use no external boosters.
One of the main goals it to be able to deploy a 3,000 pound satellite to polar orbit once the craft reaches high suborbital altitude. After completing its mission, the reusable first stage should return to Earth, landing horizontally, and according to DARPA, most probably, on a aircraft.
And the agency is even more demanding saying that the sonic plane should be ready for the next flight, within hours from landing, just like any other plane.
In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, DARPA and Boeing are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of XS-1 technology, flying 10 times in 10 days, with an additional final flight carrying the upper-stage payload delivery system.
And DARPA wants the flights to be as cheep as 5 million or less per launch if at least ten flights are scheduled per year.
To achieve these goals, XS-1 designers plan to take advantage of technologies and support systems that have enhanced the reliability and fast turnaround of military aircraft.
The XS-1 Phase 2/3 design also intends to increase efficiencies by integrating numerous state-of-the-art technologies, including some previously developed by DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. For example, the XS-1 technology demonstrator’s propulsion system is an Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine, a version of the legacy Space Shuttle main engine.
And the developers are also relying on other past technologies like lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks to hold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, hybrid composite-metallic wings and control surfaces able to withstand the physical stresses of suborbital hypersonic flight and temperatures of more than 2,000o F.
The XS-1 Phase 2 for which Boeing was selected includes design, construction, and testing of the technology demonstration vehicle through 2019 and it also features testing the technologies.
During the third phase of the project, there will be up to 15 flight tests, currently scheduled for 2020. After multiple shakedown flights to reduce risk, the XS-1 would aim to fly 10 times over 10 consecutive days, at first without payloads and at speeds as fast as Mach 5.
After the initial flights, the vehicle should be able to reach Mach 10, and deliver a demonstration payload between 900 pounds and 3,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.
“We’re delighted to see this truly futuristic capability coming closer to reality,” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which oversees XS-1. “Demonstration of aircraft-like, on-demand, and routine access to space is important for meeting critical Defense Department needs and could help open the door to a range of next-generation commercial opportunities.”
The agency hopes that its own project will also encourage the commercial sector. The same approach could be used by companies to facilitate rapid, and on-demand trips that can cater to the needs of the 21-century society.