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  (Source: DARPA)
DARPA's goal is to cut costs and increase convenience

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking to create an unmanned vehicle for satellite launches that is faster, cheaper and more convenient than existing systems.

To do this, DARPA has introduced the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which encourages the development of a fully reusable unmanned vehicle that would launch satellites into space. It would look, act, and cost more like a traditional plane. 

Current satellite launch technologies can cost hundreds of millions of dollars per flight, and can only fly a few times per year. To top it off, they typically require years of advanced scheduling. 

“We want to build off of proven technologies to create a reliable, cost-effective space delivery system with one-day turnaround,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager heading XS-1. “How it’s configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table—we’re looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible.”

The idea behind XS-1 is to have a vehicle that can operate from a clean pad, use only a small ground crew, and eliminate the need for costly specialized infrastructure.

Also ideal for XS-1 is a reusable first stage that would achieve hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude, and at that point, one or more expendable upper stages would detach and deploy a satellite into Low Earth Orbit. The reusable hypersonic aircraft would then make its way back to earth and be prepared for the next flight. 

The rapid turnaround between flights could be done through modular components, durable thermal protection systems and automatic launch/flight/recovery systems.

DARPA's goal is to develop a vehicle capable of flying 10 times in 10 days; reaching speeds of Mach 10+ at least once; launching a representative payload to orbit, and reducing the costs for small payloads by at least a factor of 10 to less than $5 million per flight.

Think you have what it takes to create what DARPA is looking for? The agency is holding an XS-1 Proposers’ Day on Monday, October 7, 2013. You must register to enter, and registration closes October 1. 

Source: DARPA

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By toffty on 9/18/2013 3:31:45 PM , Rating: 2
Ideas? Let me open Kerbal Space Program and make some ships. I'll even perform the testing!

My favorite self-made space plane to this point is a a plane that's on a sled which has a huge engine and fuel tank attached to it. The plane gets to 200 km/hour before it leaves the sled! From there the onboard rocket easily takes the plane into orbit. Best of all? The sled's completely reusable and there are no extra rocket stages on the plane!

Usability warning: Do not put the sled's engine to max thrust since that'll cause the sled to take off with the plane attached. The sled and plane then do a few high-G flips followed by an amazing explosion as everything crashes into the ground!

I'll expect the check in the mail by tomorrow for my amazing spaceplane!

By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 4:54:43 PM , Rating: 2
I vote we just take the Aurora (yes, it's real), add a booster for a bit of extra oompf, and viola! Spaceplane lol.

By delphinus100 on 9/18/2013 9:01:53 PM , Rating: 2
Among other things, super/hypersonic separation is not a trivial aerodynamic issue. It's been done with SR-71 and drones based on the same technology as itself. Some of the results were...painful.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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