Northrop Grumman has revealed its conceptual design for DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1), which is being developed in partnership with Virgin Galactic.
Northrop Grumman also revealed that Scaled Composites (a Northrop Grumman subsidiary) will play a key role in the 13-month, $3.9 million phase-one effort.
Scaled Composites of Mojave will lead spaceplane fabrication and assembly, while Virgin Galactic heads the transition to commercial spaceplane operations. (One of DARPA’s goals is to transfer spaceplane technology to a military or commercial operator).
The reusable spaceplane is intended to achieve aircraft-like operations, providing a breakthrough in launch costs. With an expendable upper stage, it will place up to 3,000 pounds into low Earth orbit, enabling new generations of innovative, lower-cost payloads.
A key program goal is to fly ten times in ten days, with minimal infrastructure and ground crew. DARPA believes that reusable aircraft-like operations could reduce military and commercial launch costs by a factor of ten.
Northrop Grumman says the design will be built around operability and affordability. Aircraft-like features include clean-pad launch using a transporter/erector/launcher, minimal infrastructure and ground crew; highly autonomous flight operations; and horizontal landing and recovery on standard runways.