DARPA funds next phase of XS-1 spaceplane project

DARPA awarded Virgin Galactic and two others contracts to investigate how spaceplane could slash cost of putting satellites into space.

DARPA aims to build a reusable vehicle that it hopes will provide “quick, affordable and routine” access to space, which it says is “increasingly critical for both national and economic security”.

Darpa has now awarded three contracts to Boeing, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman, which will subcontract Virgin Galactic, to develop a demonstration vehicle, identify and reduce risks to the technologies on board, and come up with a plan to build and flight-test the spaceplane. Each of three companies got $6.5 million for Phase 1B of XS-1 program.

The XS-1 demo vehicle would be able to fly at hypersonic speeds – defined as five times the speed of sound or more – at least once. It would also be capable of being launched 10 times in 10 days and should be able to launch into orbit a dummy payload simulating a satellite.

It also aims to take the price of getting small payloads – ranging from 3,000lb to 5,000lb – into space down to less than $5 million.