Updated 6:02 PM EDT, Wed, Apr 01, 2020

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DARPA selects Boeing’s Team to Build its XS-1 Spaceplane


(Photo : DARPA) Phantom Express.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected a team consisting of Boeing and Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos' space transport firm) to build a prototype of its Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 spaceplane now given the name "Phantom Express."

The unmanned and reusable Phantom Express will be designed to launch military satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as cheaply as possible and land like the Space Shuttle. The goal of the XS-1 program is to build a reusable spaceplane that can fly 10 times in 10 days at a cost of no more than $5 million per flight. The XS-1 program began in 2013.

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DARPA wants the first space flight of Phantom Express to occur in 2019 or 2020.

It said Phantom Express will be a hypersonic spaceplane that will fly at Mach 5 (6,000 km/h) into high suborbital altitudes to launch satellites mounted on an expendable upper stage rocket mounted on its roof.

The upper stage carries the payload into LEO while Phantom Express returns to Earth to land on a runway. Phantom Express can carry a payload weighing up to 3,000 pounds into LEO.

DARPA hopes Phantom Express will allow the Department of Defense to launch satellites into LEO with only a few days' notice, as against the months it currently takes to plan satellite launches.

"The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today's frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand," said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager.

"We're very pleased with Boeing's progress on the XS-1 through Phase 1 of the program and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in this newly funded progression to Phases 2 and 3 --fabrication and flight."

Unlike the Air Force's X-37B unmanned spaceplane that launches on top of an Atlas V rocket, the XS-1 will launch vertically on its own internal engines using cryogenic propellants -- liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Three industry teams competed: Boeing and Blue Origin; Northrop Grumman allied with Virgin Galactic and Masten Space Systems with partner XCOR Aerospace.

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