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Northrop conceptualising XS-1 experimental spaceplane for DARPA

An artist's concept of the experimental spaceplane XS-1. A Northrop Grumman image

REDONDO BEACH, CALIFORNIA (BNS): Northrop Grumman, which has teamed up with Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-led Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 programme, is developing a preliminary design for the new unmanned aircraft which would also serve as a test-bed for a new-generation hypersonic aircraft.

The company, which has been awarded a 13-month, phase one contract valued at $3.9 million for the project, is defining its concept for the XS-1.

The new aircraft is being conceptualised in consonance with the US Government's larger plan for low-cost access to space by using a fully reusable rocket.

A key programme goal is to fly 10 times in 10 days using a minimal ground crew and infrastructure. Reusable aircraft-like operations would help reduce military and commercial light spacecraft launch costs by a factor of 10 from current launch costs in this payload class, Northrop said.

The XS-1 will have a reusable booster, that when coupled with an expendable upper stage, will provide affordable, available and responsive space lift for 3,000-pound class spacecraft into low Earth orbit.

To complement its aircraft, spacecraft and autonomous systems capabilities, Northrop has tied up with Scaled Composites of Mojave which will lead fabrication and assembly, and Virgin Galactic which will head commercial spaceplane operations and transition.

DARPA has also awarded contracts to Masten Space Systems and Boeing to design the new unmanned aircraft.

In Phase 1 of XS-1 programme, the agency intends to evaluate the technical feasibility and methods for achieving the programme's goals.

Key XS-1 technical goals include flying 10 times in 10 days, flying to Mach 10+ at least once and launching a representative small payload to orbit. The programme seeks to reduce the cost of access to space to less than $5 million per flight.


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