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Space The Military

DARPA Launches Military Spaceplane Project 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-order-a-dozen dept.
RocketAcademy writes "The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a new program to develop a reusable first-stage launch vehicle. Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) would be capable of flying 10 times in 10 days, with a small ground crew, reaching speeds of Mach 10, and deploying a small upper stage to place a 3,000-pound satellite into orbit. The XS-1 program is complementary to the Air Force's Boeing X-37, which is a reusable upper stage. The X-37 is currently launched by an expendable Atlas rocket but could be launched by a vehicle derived from XS-1 in the future. Military planners have dreamed of a two-stage, fully reusable Military Spaceplane for several years, but funding has not materialized up to now."
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DARPA Launches Military Spaceplane Project

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  • by tsotha (720379) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @03:50AM (#44881525)
    This seems to dovetail nicely with Elon Musk's plans for a reusable Falcon first stage.
    • Re:SpaceX (Score:5, Interesting)

      by benjfowler (239527) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @05:10AM (#44881749)

      Competition is good.

      Although we're comparing apples with oranges here. Many of Elon's technical choices are extremely conservative, e.g. old gas-generator cycle engines, pintle injectors, etc. OTOH, DARPA is doing what DARPA does best -- highly speculative, high-risk, high-payoff research which may or may not result in a working launch vehicle.

      What _will_ be interesting, is if DARPA comes up with totally new ways of building tough, low maintenance hypersonic vehicles cheaply.

      • You'll still need economical heavy-duty launchers. Not everything can be sent to orbit in two-ton pieces and assembled there.
      • I reckon the "real" purpose of the program is to develop a mach-10 air-breathing aircraft, not to put 3-ton payloads in LEO. We already have many options for the latter, and they're getting cheaper all the time. (If that were the goal, they would use off-the-shelf tech to build a slower plane with a bigger rocket.) But hey, I'm not complaining, I'd love to see that kind of aircraft get developed. If they need an "excuse" for funding, that's fine with me.

        • Amen. Somebody stands to make a fortune, when they figure out how to get business-class passengers from LA to Tokyo in 2 hours or less.

        • "I reckon the "real" purpose of the program is to develop a mach-10 air-breathing aircraft"

          Certainly not. Hypersonic airbreathers are extremely difficult, and there's an enormous difference between cruise missions (airliners) and acceleration missions (space launch). Airbreathers tend to perform well at a specific velocity (cruise speed) while rockets must perform well over a wide range of speeds.

          Jess Sponable knows that, have seen what happened in the X-30 NASP program, and will not go down that route

  • The US Space Shuttle and USSR Buran proved conclusively that resusable spaceplanes are hugely wasteful. The only way the X-37B (the current "shuttle") could be considered successful is that it spends more time in the air than on the ground, since it's up for about 6-18 months at a time.

    Spaceplane mass is wasted mass that can't be used for payload mass. Launch electronics are cheap these days, I am honestly very curious what good a reusable spaceplane provides over existing expendable rockets. As Ts

    • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @05:10AM (#44881747)

      The US Space Shuttle and USSR Buran proved conclusively that resusable spaceplanes are hugely wasteful.

      Not really, since neither of them was really reusable, more vaguely refurbishable, and both were prototypes with no development path.

    • by Required Snark (1702878) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @05:50AM (#44881881)
      Military requirements are not the same as civilian requirements. RTFA. They state that they want cheaper launches with quick turn around, and very flexible ground station requirements. The closest civilian match is SpaceShip 2, and that does not have orbital capabilities. Orbital Sciences has an air launch small satellite platform, Pegasus [wikipedia.org] but it only puts 980 Lbs in low earth orbit.

      DARPA is not always right, but they are not a bunch of dummies either. The see enough need for a spaceplane that they want to invest resources on it. They obviously disagree with you that "Spaceplanes are hugely wasteful".

    • by peragrin (659227) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @06:38AM (#44882031)

      no they aren't hugely wasteful. especially the Buran which didn't have the main engines mounted in it. The Buran died with the collapse of the soviet union.

      Even the space shuttle put more people into space ever. Russian capsules have another 100 launches or so before they will come close to putting the number of people and equipment that the shuttles did.

      Also no one other than the shuttle has gone EVA to repair large satellites.(the hubble repair missions) As they literally can not carry both the people and the equipment.

      The waste of the space shuttle came from the fact that it was stripped after every flight had the engines gutted and rebuilt. It used expsensive and fragile tiles for a heat shield.

      remove the main engines like Buran did and find a better heat shield. that is what it will take to make the shuttle better.

      The shuttle also could do one thing that no other vehicle could do. Bring things home safely. Personally I wish the last shuttle mission was a mission to hubble to bring it back to earth. a fitting tribute the hubble would be permanent display in a museum. You can not do that with any other vehicle design.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I bet you are suffering from the misconception that fuel is a major part of the cost of a launch, so conserving fuel is what matters - that's what I thought too. So I had no clue what the point with reusable rockets/spaceplanes was. In fact the fuel costs very little in comparison to the rocket, IIRC it's not far off from 100:1 in terms of cost. With that knowledge, suddenly the world makes sense again. :) Reusable hardware is a big deal - it potentially offers more than an order of magnitude reduction in l

      • by Hadlock (143607)

        No, the problem is that the shuttle weighed almost a quarter million pounds dry. That is a quarter million pounds of lost launch capacity. Look at the tiny tin cans that the ISS is made of, all glued together. SkyLab had the same internal volume as the entire ISS put together, and it went up on a single rocket. That is the kind of inefficencies you see when you put things up piecemeal with a reusable orbiter instead of a dedicated rocket.

    • by dave420 (699308)
      The realisation that instead of carrying massive amounts of oxygen in order to force your way through massive amounts of oxygen is indicative of something rather different to a "dead-end technology". A plane that can take off horizontally, burning atmospheric air while accelerating and climbing, which then switches to using its own on-board oxygen in order to reach orbit makes a lot of sense. The only real challenge there are the engines, which if to be an economically viable solution, have to provide bot
      • " A plane that can take off horizontally, burning atmospheric air while accelerating and climbing, which then switches to using its own on-board oxygen in order to reach orbit makes a lot of sense."

        Until you look at the physics/economics. Extracting oxygen from the atmosphere isn't free. It shows up as drag, which requires more fuel to overcome. The liquid oxygen in a rocket's propellant tank has already had kinetic energy added to it. The oxygen you get from the atmosphere is at a much lower energy stat

  • by tlambert (566799) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @06:15AM (#44881947)

    So basically a revival of X-33/DC-X, neither of which should have been cancelled in the first place, and they're willing to pay 10X the original estimated launch costs of the most expensive one ($5,000,000 per launch vs. the X-33 estimated cost of $500,000) and 20X the least expensive one ($250,000 estimated per for the DC-X).

    Seems a bit redundant compared to simply reviving DC-X.

    • Seems a bit redundant compared to simply reviving DC-X.

      Of course the DC-X and X-33 were prototype/technology demonstrators - with pretty much none of the capabilities that DARPA wants. They ask for Apollo, and you propose reviving Mercury. What exactly would this accomplish?

      • by tlambert (566799)

        Seems a bit redundant compared to simply reviving DC-X.

        Of course the DC-X and X-33 were prototype/technology demonstrators - with pretty much none of the capabilities that DARPA wants. They ask for Apollo, and you propose reviving Mercury. What exactly would this accomplish?

        The common wisdom is that you have to build Mercury before you can build Apollo; personally, I would have skipped the "technology demonstrator" phase and jumped right to building ships, but if you buy that philosophy, then the DARPA request is for another Mercury program before they get an Apollo program, and then the capability they want. So at the very least you skip yet another "let's almost build it than cancel it" Mercury style program.

        The X-33 fuel tank problems were never resolved, which means a new

        • The X-33 fuel tank problems were never resolved, which means a new spaceplane is going to be about as viable as an X-33 demonstrator, for the same reasons, unless they resolve the storage problem.

          Well, since the X-33 tank problems were solved in 2005... I fail to see the point. Not to mention the error of believing that lobed conformal tanks are the only solution.

          The DC-X demonstrator worked.

          Sure - in the same way a family sedan can be considered a working technology demonstrator for a high perfor

  • The UN's outer space treaty dates from 1967, and the stated intentions to drive it further were never realised.

    The intention seems to be to set up a framework against the weaponization of space.

    And so it is the USA that puts those hopes beyond our reach.

    Thanks, ally.
  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @07:13AM (#44882117)

    Use metric!

  • Maybe this time we'll get a real six million dollar man.

  • by tekrat (242117) on Wednesday September 18, 2013 @09:33AM (#44882967) Homepage Journal

    Seriously. How much time and money has been wasted constantly trying to re-invent something we had in the mid-60's? The X-15 program was *very* successful, with only one serious accident *and* there was a version with drop tanks for greater range/speed. If they had simply continued this line of development instead of stopping everything to put a man in a tin-can on top of a missile, we'd already be going to space casually, for weekend trips and vacations.

    • by Gilmoure (18428)

      *golf clap*

      Still have X-15 model rocket I built back in '73. Love that plane, um space, um thing!

    • The X-15 program was *very* successful, with only one serious accident *and* there was a version with drop tanks for greater range/speed.

      Yeah... but if you actually read the history of the flights with the drop tanks, going for extreme performance, you'll find there were a lot of problems. The X-15 was an airplane, not a spaceplane, and growing the former into the latter is not as easy as you seem to think. It's like trying to evolve a submarine from a battle tank.

      If they had simply continued th

  • my spaceplane can fly 20 times in 20 days!

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern

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