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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 delphinus100 on 9/18/2013 8:56:43 PM , Rating: 2
Physics dictates that because of Earth gravity, a large portion of your fuel will have to be allocated in the effort to reach escape velocity. There's just no way around this.

Right...what's your point? The cost of fuel isn't what makes space launch expensive. If that were all that mattered, getting to orbit would cost about as much as getting the same mass across the Pacific. Yes it takes 'lots' of fuel, but fuel resources on Earth are also plentiful and cheap.

Sure you could build a space elevator. But I would be remiss to call it "cost effective", since constructing it would equal the cost of every space launch ever done in the history of mankind and then some.

Now on that, we agree. Space Elevators are useful only to get to geostationary orbit, getting off any lower means generating your own horizontal velocity to stay in orbit, the lower, the more so. Not everyone wants or needs to get to GEO. Getting there is also a slow ride throught eh VanAllen belts along the way (high-thrust orbital transfers and escape departures cut across them quickly), and they're a stationary target for every orbiting object that's not also in geostationary orbit...

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