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DARPA wants hypersonic space drone with daily launches

An artist’s rendering of the XS-1 experimental space plane program from DARPA.

The Defense Department is attempting to develop a new unmanned spacecraft that could enter low Earth orbit faster and with more frequency than ever before.

If DARPA gets what it wants, the new XS-1 experimental space drone would be designed to travel at hypersonic speeds and be durable enough to fly once a day for 10 days in a row.

A release from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency explained how “quick, affordable and routine access to space” is becoming increasingly critical to DOD operations.

“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 for the XS-1, in the release. “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.”

According to its federal contract proposal sheet, the reusable space plane will need to carry 3,000- to 5,000-pound payloads at a cost of less than $5M per launch. Another listed requirement is “Mach 10+” speed, meaning 10 times the speed of sound and faster than 7,680 mph.

Similar to the X-37B unmanned spacecraft—designed by Boeing and used by the U.S. Air Force—the XS-1 would provide a technological edge in the age of real-time surveillance and information gathering.

Right now, development of the XS-1 is in the question and answer phase with potential contracting agencies, according to the website for Federal Business Opportunities.

suzuki.toshio@stripes.com
Twitter: @ToshJohn

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