The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boeing have teamed up to design, build and test a technology demonstration vehicle for Boeing's Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) programme.
The programme seeks to demonstrate the technology required to construct and fly a reusable aircraft that could perform a variety of military and commercial missions such as responsive launch, hypersonic flight test and global reach intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
Through the collaboration, Boeing will develop a spaceplane called Phantom Express to enable faster, more affordable small military and commercial satellite launches.
The autonomous, reusable spaceplane will have the ability to carry and deploy a small expendable upper stage to launch small satellites, weighing 1,361kg, into low-Earth orbit.
After reaching the edge of space, Phantom Express will deploy the second stage and return to Earth.
Boeing Phantom Works president Darryl Davis said: “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.”
The Phantom Express will be powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine, which runs on liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel.
This spaceplane is said to provide an advanced airframe design and 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.
Boeing and DARPA plan to conduct ten test flights of Phantom Express for ten days, during the test phase of the programme.
Image: Artist’s concept of Phantom Express preparing to launch its expendable second stage on the top of the vehicle. Photo: courtesy of Boeing.