Thursday, 9 June 2016

Why DARPA is Pursuing the Reusable Military XS-1 Spaceplane


SpaceX to Inspect Rockets – Plans to Re-Fly

Elon Musk, the optimistic and according to some a visionary, the founder of SpaceX has plans of colonizing Mars. Heading the considered technology office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Brad Tousley, had stated on May 15 that Elon wants to go beyond that. Musk, after landing three first stage rockets, had said that SpaceX would inspect the rockets with plans to re-fly most of them later. Tousley supervises DARPA’s space programs that tend to handle the Defense Department’s most complex expansion challenges.

He defined the landing of first stage rockets by SpaceX as well as Blue Origin as `a very impressive accomplishments’. The agency had added that DARPA had pointed out that the satellite launches on rockets need to be scheduled well in advance and tends to cost a lot of money. `DARPA developed its Experimental Spaceplane – XS-1 program in order to overcome challenges, creating a new model for more routine, responsive as well as affordable space operations. However, Tousley, during a speech at the GEOINT 2016 conference said that the XS-1 which was the experimental spaceplane of the agency, also had ambitious plans and he wants to launch again in 24 hours.

Launch 10 Times in Ten Days

DARPA’s XS-1 spaceplane preferably would launch 10 times in 10 days, carrying payloads that tend to weight as much as 1,369 kilograms in low earth orbit for $5 million. DARPA has been confirming a request for proposals for the second phase of the XS-1 progress program. That acquisition document could be released by the agency as early as this month, according to DARPA officials. As part of a public-private partnership, a contract award may come as early as 2017 with the first flight tests in 2020.

 Tousley has mentioned that DARPA would be contributing `a healthy fraction’ towards the growth of the spaceplane. The agency’s top funded space program has been XS-1, the last two years. White House had asked for $50 million for the program for fiscal year 2016, in its budget request. Three industry teams seemed to have worked on the first phase of the program, namely Boeing and Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems and XCOR Aerospace and Northrop Grumman and Virgin Galactic.

XS-1 – As Warning for Defense Department

During his speech, Tousley had emphasized on the importance of the quick turnaround for the spaceplane. He had stated that `one of the critical parameters coming out of the solicitation of the Phase 2, for XS-1, is the need that before the launch of this asset for the first time, vendors would be proving to DARPA through ground test of the propulsion system 10 times in 10 days and that they were going to burn a lot of risk down’. Tousley had also mentioned that XS-1 could also act as a warning for the Defense Department as threats to national security satellites have occurred in recent years.

He added that `if you have the ability to launch an asset in 24 hours, essentially on a moment’s notice, then it could cause an adversary to think twice about justwhat is it they want to do from a threatening standpoint. We think just having that competence as being of a preventive value’.