DARPA or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been known as a clandestine agency that develops mind-bending technology for national defense. The internet, video conferencing, and GPS are just some of the incredible breakthroughs that have come from DARPA research and investments. Those advancements extend to spaceflight.
The agency has awarded a $146 million-dollar contract to veteran aerospace manufacturers, Boeing, to complete the design phase of a new autonomous launch vehicle. The XS-1 or “Phantom Express” is a rapidly reusable spaceplane with the ability to launch vertically off a pad and land horizontally on a runway.
Facilitation and flights of the XS-1 Phantom Express spaceplane will be based out of Cape Canaveral Air Force station on Florida’s space coast. The launch pad is still unknown but it seems likely that the military will utilize the old Space Shuttle landing facility for XS-1 touchdowns.
The XS-1 is the size of a small airplane. It is about 100 feet in length, 24 feet in height, and has a wingspan of 60 feet. The Phantom Express has the capability of lifting almost 3,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit where the International Space Station is positioned without the need for external boosters.
“For more than fifty years, DARPA has held to a singular and enduring mission: to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security,” says a statement on the DARPA website. “The genesis of that mission and of DARPA itself dates to the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and a commitment by the United States that, from that time forward, it would be the initiator and not the victim of strategic technological surprises.”
Boeing beat out aerospace industry competitors Northrup Grumman and Masten Space Systems for the DARPA design completion contract. The agency says they will “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,” according to a press release.
DARPA is betting that the Phantom Express will allow operators “to recover from a catastrophic loss of military or commercial satellites.”
Boeing claims that the experimental spaceplane “would reinvent space missions for commercial and government customers by providing rapid, aircraft-like access to space. Within minutes, the autonomous, reusable spaceplane would launch its upper stage to deploy small satellites into low Earth orbit. It would then land on a runway to be prepared for its next flight.”
Featured Image Credit: DARPA