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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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RE: In other words
By Jeffk464 on 9/18/2013 5:47:17 PM , Rating: 4
Darpa should get on board with England's Skylon project. If its feasible it looks like it might be the best approach yet.

RE: In other words
By delphinus100 on 9/18/2013 8:59:49 PM , Rating: 2
I like SKYLON too, but it's a higher-risk project than DARPA is willing to take. This is less 'sexy,' but has fewer unknowns.

Besides, going to a non-US partner brings in ITAR and other political issues, even though it's the U.K.

RE: In other words
By mjv.theory on 9/19/2013 7:33:21 AM , Rating: 2
Skylon only works (on paper, although I am confident they can build it successfully) because it uses air-breathing engines. This means that it can get to a rather useful Mach5.5 using oxygen (which is the heavy part of the fuel load) that it didn't need to haul up from the ground. Basically, using air breathing engines reduces the launch mass by about 200-250tonnes.

Even a reduced sized Skylon for a smaller payload target will still be a $500million vehicle, which is a lot of capital to spread across small payload missions.

Given that the SABRE engines (air breathing) will need to be developed anyway, then using them as first stage engines of a staged vehicle, would be the optimal way of reducing launch costs and/or increasing lift capability. IMO the "space plane" concept ignores the fundamental engineering issues in favour of some misty-eyed single-stage-to-orbit fantasy. That whole space-plane fiction has been holding back cost efficient space/orbital access for decades.

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