DARPA Looking to Develop Unmanned Space Plane For Satellite Launches
September 18, 2013 2:27 PM
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DARPA's goal is to cut costs and increase convenience
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.
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RE: In other words
9/19/2013 11:21:21 AM
I'm afraid we're stuck with rocket engines for getting to LEO. That means we're constrained by three basic factors: the efficiency of the non-nuclear fuel, the efficiency of the engine, and the weight of the vehicle+fuel at rest.
Nuclear does have a place to be improved on. It's an excellent source of energy whether for heat or electrical power and it can be a component of a really efficient ion engine for as long as the reactive mass lasts.
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