US Military’s Satellite-Launching XS-1 Space Plane Could Fly in 2019

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is now entering the second and third phases of its ambitious Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to make launching satellites a daily occurrence. “I can tell you officially now that we have been funded by the [Obama] Administration for the next phase of XS-1,” DARPA’s Jess Sponable told applauding attendees at the Space Access ’16 Conference in Phoenix last week. “What I can tell you right now is that we have $146 million.” DARPA launched the XS-1 program in 2014 with the goal of developing a reusable launch system capable of flying 10 times in 10 days with aircraftlike operability, at a cost of no more than $5 million per flight. Over the past two years, DARPA has funded Phase 1 studies by three companies: Boeing, which partnered with Blue Origin; Masten Space Systems, which partnered with XCOR Aerospace; and Northrop Grumman, which partnered with Virgin Galactic. The goal of the next phases of the program is to take the program beyond studies to flight tests. The solicitation will be open to all companies, not just the ones that were funded in Phase 1. Sponable said that although he expects more than three bids, the level of detail required for the next phases will make it difficult for new entrants to compete with the companies that are already in the program. DARPA will kick off Phase 2 with a proposers’ day on April 29 in Arlington, Virginia. The agency will send out a solicitation following the meeting, with the goal of selecting a single contractor early in fiscal year 2017. Flights of the vehicle would occur in the 2019 to 2020 time frame. Sponable said that the $146 million DARPA has received is sufficient to begin to support a single contractor. “That’s enough to pick someone and go,” he said. “It’s probably not enough to fully fund what we have envisioned.”

Indeed..  Very cool!!   🙂

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