DARPA to Launch New Reusable Launch Vehicle Program

DARPA_logoJeff Foust reports on a new DARPA program aimed at developing a reusable first stage booster capable of launching medium-sized satellites to low Earth orbit for $5 million apiece:

Speaking at the AIAA Space 2013 conference here Sept. 12, Pam Melroy, deputy director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said the agency would release a Broad Agency Announcement in the next few weeks for a program called Experimental Spaceplane, or XS-1. An industry day for the program is planned for early October.

“The goal of the program is to fly ten times in ten days, and to achieve Mach 10,” Melroy said. The XS-1 itself would not fly into orbit, but could carry an expendable upper stage to place payloads weighing up to 1,800 kilograms into orbit at a target price of $5 million per launch. The vehicle could also be used as a platform for hypersonics research.

DARPA is already funding the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which is funding six companies to develop a launch system capable of putting 100 lbs. (45 kg.) payloads to low Earth orbit for $1 million. ALASA technology could be folded into the XS-1 effort.

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  • Hug Doug

    i was wondering when DARPA would start a program for reusable booster technology. frankly i think it’s long overdue! but better now than never 🙂

  • Brainard

    I was wondering when Hug Doug would let us know what he was wondering.

  • Nickolai

    That would put the cost/kg at $2777, which is comparable to Zenit[1]

    1- http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=301. Accounting for 2.2 lb/kg and inflation that puts the Zenit launch cost at 3386-4836/kg in today’s dollars

    And ALASA would cost >20000/kg

  • larryj8

    It typically takes years from the signing of a contract until the actual launch occurs. These DARPA projects are more interested in shortening that timeline than in reducing costs, especially in regards to ALASA. Think tactical satellites and emergency capability replenishment via microsatellites instead of traditional launches.

  • Duncan Law-Green

    1,800kg is enough for a Mercury capsule. Could be a fun ride 😉

  • Robert Gishubl

    Why start a new program when SpaceX is just about ready to fly a prototype? Given all that SpaceX has on its plate they must be running short on cash and any problems could cause them to fold. Surely they would jump at the chance of some money and DARPA would get lots of data real soon with the posibility of a functioning system real soon. Even though F9 is overpowered for a first stage once it is re-usable the additional fuel cost would be minimal. Put a Falcon 1 upper stage on it and with the lower second stage weight get it slightly higher so the second stage can lift a bit more and hey presto, demo flight 2014 or 15.

  • Hug Doug

    different payload weight and cost scale. Falcon 9 can launch 6,600-10,450 kg to orbit, for $50 million. this DARPA program wants to launch a max of 1,800 kg for $5 million.

    also SpaceX long ago decommissioned all of its Falcon 1 manufacturing equipment.

  • Robert Gishubl

    Even though F9 is overpowered for a first stage once it is re-usable it will cost less to launch than currently where it is disposable.

  • Hug Doug

    the Falcon 9 first stage is way overpowered for the scale of what they want to do. it’s overkill. you don’t use a semi truck to move a coffee table.