Credit: Boeing

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced today they are collaborating with Beoing to design, build and test a technology demonstration vehicle for the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program.

Boeing’s Phantom Express aims to enable faster, more affordable small satellite launches.

In a Boeing statement, the aerospace firm will develop an autonomous, reusable spaceplane capable of carrying and deploying a small expendable upper stage to launch small (3,000 pound/1,361 kg) satellites into low Earth orbit.

Boeing and DARPA will jointly invest in the development.

Disrupt and transform

Once Phantom Express reaches the edge of space, it would deploy the second stage and return to Earth. It would then land on a runway to be prepared for its next flight by applying operation and maintenance principles similar to modern aircraft.

“Phantom Express is designed to disrupt and transform the satellite launch process as we know it today, creating a new, on-demand space-launch capability that can be achieved more affordably and with less risk,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works.

Phantom Express Technical Specifications

Length 100 ft (30.5 m)
Height 24 ft (7.3 m)
Diameter 13.7 ft (4.1 m)
Wing Span 62 ft (19 m)
Engine 1 Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22
Fuel Liquid hydrogen
Oxidizer Liquid oxygen

Credit: Boeing

Legacy shuttle engines

Aerojet Rocketdyne also announced today it was selected to provide the main propulsion for the Boeing/DARPA XS-1. The main propulsion is based on the legacy space shuttle main engines (SSME).

For the XS-1 program, Aerojet Rocketdyne is providing two engines with legacy shuttle flight experience to demonstrate reusability, a wide operating range and rapid turnarounds. These engines will be designated as AR-22 engines and will be assembled from parts that remained in both Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA inventories from early versions of the SSME engines. Assembly and ground testing will take place at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Phantom Express is envisioned as a highly autonomous experimental spaceplane, shown preparing for launch in this artist’s concept.
Credit: Boeing

Demonstration flights

Phantom Express would offer an advanced airframe design as well as third-generation thermal protection to create a vehicle capable of flying at high flight velocity, while carrying a smaller, more affordable expendable upper stage to achieve the mission objectives.

In the test phase of the program, Boeing and DARPA plan to conduct a demonstration of 10 flights over 10 days.

A DARPA statement notes that the XS-1 Phase 2 includes design, construction, and testing of the technology demonstration vehicle through 2019. It calls for initially firing the vehicle’s engine on the ground 10 times in 10 days to demonstrate propulsion readiness for flight tests.

Phase 3 objectives include 12 to 15 flight tests, currently scheduled for 2020. After multiple shakedown flights to reduce risk, the XS-1 would aim to fly 10 times over 10 consecutive days, at first without payloads and at speeds as fast as Mach 5. Subsequent flights are planned to fly as fast as Mach 10, and deliver a demonstration payload between 900 pounds and 3,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.

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