DARPA Experimental SpacePlane-1 (XS-1) launch

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has announced the selection of three teams to conduct Phase One design studies for the agency’s Experimental SpacePlane 1 (XS-1).

DARPA has selected Boeing (working with Blue Origin), Masten Space Systems (working with XCOR Aerospace), and Northrop Grumman Corporation (working with Virgin Galactic) to design the reusable experimental spaceplane, which is expected to fly ten times in ten days, fly to Mach 10+ at least once, and launch a 3,000-5,000 pound payload to orbit.

DARPA Experimental SpacePlane-1 (XS-1) staging

Program manager Jess Sponable said that DARPA “chose performers who could prudently integrate existing and up-and-coming technologies and operations, while making XS-1 as reliable, easy-to-use and cost-effective as possible. We’re eager to see how their initial designs envision making spaceflight commonplace—with all the potential military, civilian and commercial benefits that capability would provide.”

According to a DARPA press release, the XS-1 program “aims to develop a fully-reusable unmanned vehicle that would provide aircraft-like access to space and deploy small satellites to orbit using expendable upper stages. XS-1 seeks to deploy small satellites faster and more affordably, and develop technology for next-generation hypersonic vehicles.

“XS-1 envisions that a reusable first stage would fly to hypersonic speeds at a suborbital altitude. At that point, one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The reusable first stage would then return to earth, land and be prepared for the next flight. Modular components, durable thermal protection systems and automatic launch, flight and recovery systems should significantly reduce logistical needs, enabling rapid turnaround between flights.”

In addition to creating vehicle designs, the three teams will identify and conduct critical risk reduction of core component technologies and processes and develop a technology maturation plan leading to fabrication and flight-test.

DARPA expects the teams to “explore alternative technical approaches from the perspectives of feasibility, performance, system design and development cost and operational cost. They must also assess potential suitability for near-term transition opportunities to military, civil, and commercial users. These opportunities include both launching small payloads per the program goals as well as others, such as supporting future hypersonic testing and a future space-access aircraft.”

DARPA did not announce the size of the contracts, but previous statements place the awards at about $3 million each. (Boeing has just announced that its award is $4 million.)

Technology developed in the XS-1 program could transition into future fully reusable orbital systems, such as XCOR’s Lynx Mark V (the successor to the Lynx suborbital spacecraft) or Blue Origin’s VTVL system. DARPA has not specified a launch or landing mode, but it is anticipated that XS-1 concepts will include both vertical and horizontal takeoff and landing systems.

Written by Astro1 on July 15th, 2014 , Blue Origin, Boeing, Masten Space Systems, Military Space, XCOR Aerospace

Masten Space Systems Xeus lunar lander

NASA has announced its intent to sign three non-funded Space Act Agreements for the development of robotic lunar landing capabilities with Astrobotic Technologies, Masten Space Systems, and Moon Express.

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Written by Astro1 on May 1st, 2014 , Masten Space Systems

Masten Space Systems Xaero-B VTVL rocket demonstrator

The Xaero-B is taking shape at Masten Space Systems.

Xaero-B is a replacement for the Xaero VTVL test vehicle that crashed last September. Xaero-B is not a mere copy of the original XAero, however. It incorporates numerous improvements. The payload bay is significantly larger and XAero-B is designed for higher-altitude flights (up to 6 kilometers).

Xaero-B is considerably larger as a result. Xaero was about 12 feet tall. Xaero-B will stand somewhere between 15 and 16 feet tall.

Xaero-B also sports a new boat tail that makes it look a lot like the spaceship Luna from Destination: Moon. More proof that Robert Heinlein had it right all along.

Written by Astro1 on March 25th, 2013 , Masten Space Systems

Dave Masten, CTO Masten Space Systems

Masten Space Systems, one of the leaders in VTOL rocket development, has announced the availability of postgraduate fellowships.

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Written by Astro1 on January 27th, 2013 , Masten Space Systems

Masten Space Systems has released the following statement on the loss of the Xaero vehicle during flight test on September 11.

Last week we encountered a sub system failure in flight that necessitated turning the rocket off while still in the air. Landing at that point winds up considerably rearranging the rocket into rocket parts.

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Written by Astro1 on September 19th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems

Masten Space Systems has posted a blog entry about today’s test flight, which didn’t go as well as planned.

Today, Masten Space Systems conducted a flight test of Xaero to 1 km altitude with the intention of testing flight controls at higher ascent and descent velocities. Our test objectives were met and initial results show the vehicle performed better than expected at altitude. However, the vehicle was lost during final approach to landing, and the initial cause appears to be a throttle valve failure. The most important thing is that our team is safe and with the data from this test, we expect to be flying again soon!

Thanks for your support!

That’s why they call it testing.

Written by Astro1 on September 11th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems

We’re not talking about the migration of humans from Earth into space, although we are optimistic that will begin in earnest in the next few years.

We’re talking about the migration of commercial space companies from one part of the United States to another.

In July, XCOR Aerospace announced the relocation of its main research and development operation to Midland, Texas. Next week, XCOR is expected to make another announcement. Although the official statement won’t come until August 23, word is already out on the street that  XCOR will announce the development of an engine and vehicle production facility in Florida.

XCOR will retain some operations at Mojave Air and Space Port, in the high desert of California where the company was born. It will probably continue to base a Lynx suborbital spaceship there for the foreseeable future, to provide a launch site for West Coast missions. The company’s main focus, however, is clearly shifting to other states.

Some observers may question the sudden expansion of XCOR into not one, but two new states. The move makes sense, however. Locating R&D and production facilities in two separate states will minimize the possibility of R&D activities randomizing the assembly line.

It’s also worth noting that Masten Space Systems has a signed contract with Space Florida to begin flying its VTVL rocketship at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At the moment, the agreement calls for nothing more than demonstration flights, but that could change in the future. Space Florida officials expect XCOR to create 152 new jobs in Florida. They are no doubt keeping a close eye on Masten. If they see similar potential for growth, it’s reasonable to expect that they will make a push for that company as well.

Meanwhile, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is looking to expand operations in Texas, both at its McGregor testing facility near Waco and a proposed new launch site in South Texas.

All of these moves have one common denominator: they are away from California. While other states are dangling incentives in front of emerging space companies, California has elected to incentivize trial lawyers instead. States such as Texas have passed bills to protect commercial spaceflight operators from potentially crippling lawsuits, but a bill introduced in the California legislature was watered down to the point of meaninglessness. It appears that California has decided to export aerospace jobs.

Written by Astro1 on August 16th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems, Spaceports, SpaceX, XCOR Aerospace

Masten Space Systems’s XAERO recently completed a record flight to 444 meters (1457 feet) above ground level. XAERO is the first Masten vehicle with an aeroshell, which will allow flights to high altitude. Masten is currently conducting envelope-expansion tests to verify the new aerodynamics.

Written by Astro1 on July 4th, 2012 , Masten Space Systems

Current Administration space policy calls for NASA to look beyond the “been there, done that” of the Moon.

From a policy perspective, that is arguably a wise decision. By returning to the Moon, NASA might easily end up stuck in an “ISS 2 on the Moon” situation.

There’s also a technological argument against returning to the Moon, however. Returning to the Moon would require developing a lunar lander, a new piece of a single-purpose hardware that would make lunar landings more expensive than missions to, say, an asteroid. But is that assumption necessarily true?

Under the Bush Vision of Space Exploration, NASA was planning to spend around $10 billion to development the Altair lunar lander. That’s certainly a significant amount of money – several times what SpaceX expects to spend to develop both the Falcon rocket and the Dragon capsule – but NASA was proposing (not unexpectedly) to build the mother of all lunar landers, rather than a minimal cost system. Since we now know that’s unrealistic, what sort of lander options might be affordable, either for NASA or private industry?

Surprisingly, there are a number of possibilities which, if not quite off-the-shelf, are fairly close.

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Draper Laboratories tested its GENIE guidance system (Guidance Embedded Navigator Integration Environment) on a recent flight of Masten Space System’s Xombie vehicle. Draper has now posted a Youtube video of the test flight.

Written by Astro1 on February 16th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General), Masten Space Systems, Space Exploration (General)