Boeing Receives Contract for XS-1 Experimental Space Plane

XS-1 vehicle (Credit: Boeing)
XS-1 vehicle (Credit: Boeing)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif., July 15, 2014 (Boeing PR) – Boeing [NYSE: BA] plans to  design a reusable launch vehicle for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in support of the U.S. government’s efforts to reduce satellite launch costs.  DARPA’s XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane is conceived as a reusable, unmanned booster with costs, operation and reliability similar to modern aircraft.

“Developing a vehicle that launches small payloads more affordably is a priority for future U.S. Defense Department operations,” said Steve Johnston, director of Boeing’s Phantom Works Advanced Space Exploration division. “Boeing brings a combination of proven experience in developing launch systems and reusable space vehicles, along with unparalleled expertise in the development and fielding of highly operable and cost-effective transportation systems.”

Under the $4 million preliminary design contract, Boeing plans to work on a reusable first stage launch vehicle capable of carrying and deploying an upper stage to launch small satellite payloads of 3,000 to 5,000 pounds (1,361 kg to 2,268 kg) into low-Earth orbit.

“Our design would allow the autonomous booster to carry the second stage and payload to high altitude and deploy them into space. The booster would then return to Earth, where it could be quickly prepared for the next flight by applying operation and maintenance principles similar to modern aircraft.” said Will Hampton, Boeing XS-1 program manager. “Drawing on our other innovative technologies, Boeing intends to provide a concept that uses efficient, streamlined ground infrastructure and improves the turnaround time  to relaunch this spacecraft for subsequent missions.”

DARPA plans to hold a Phase II competition next year for the follow-on production order to build the vehicle and conduct demonstration flights.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is one of the world’s largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is a $33 billion business with 56,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.

  • delphinus100

    So, did they dust off the concept that they proposed for X-33,* but lost to Lockheed-Martin…?

    * Rightmost in image:

  • Hug Doug

    I had a similar thought. Boeing could very well be dusting off their old blueprints for their X-33 competition entry for this project.

  • windbourne

    It would be interesting to see hypersonic engines used for this.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    If by “hypersonic” engines you mean a (ram/scram) jet, then it will run out of air long before the upper stage deploy.
    As a point of comparison, the F9 first stage reaches approx. 8000 km/h (Mach 6) at approx. 100 km. This “spaceplane” (if that is really what it has to be) is required to go over 12000 km/h (Mach 10). On the plus side, that will help reduce the size (and cost) of the upper stage, which will be carrying payloads of up to 2,300 kg. One of the downsides is that it has to re-enter at Mach 10.

  • ReusablesForever

    That’s exactly what I think they’re doing – reworking our X-33 proposed configuration. I should know – I was responsible for the aerodynamic and aero-heating configuration development for the [then] Rockwell vehicle “the one that would have worked.” Apparently, the only major visible thing that the current designers have done is to relocate the centerline fin to the wing tips in order to provide the payload with a clear separation field. There would be other changes, of course, due to the much more benign entry thermodynamics.

  • windbourne

    I realize that it would run out, but, if they can do mach 10 at 100-120K’, then it would be cheap to launch a sat.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Aside from propulsion, a big part of going fast in the atmosphere is aerodynamics. If there were enough air at 35-40km, which there isn’t, then staging would be that more risky and difficult and risky and difficult. Also, you’re giving the upper stage more work to do – more size, more cost.
    As another point of comparison, Skylon will transition from air breathing mode at 28 km; I don’t imagine a jet will breathe much better beyond that point either.
    There’s also the small matter of 57 trillion dollars and 90 years more of research to actually get a ram or scram jet to work, assuming it’s even possible. And ram jets only work up to mach 6 and scram jets only work above mach 5. In short, if you want to go mach 3, get a jet, if you want to faster, get a rocket; otherwise you need more than one type of engine, unless you’ve got a sabre.

  • windbourne

    First off, scrams start at mach 4, not 5.
    Secondly, I note the fact that it is Boeing that is doing this work with the X51A.
    I also note that since blackswift was killed off, that the DOD continues to push for hypersonic development.

    And will it costs 57 trillion and 90 years? I doubt it.

  • delphinus100

    And Skylon designers have been very explicit about *not* using ramjets, supersonic combustion or otherwise.

    To them (and many others), staying deep enough in the atmosphere to use them while also approaching orbital speed, is more trouble than it’s worth.

    (Now, if you want something *meant* for hypersonic cruising in the atmosphere, and not trying to be an orbital spaceplane, that’s another story…)