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Space The Military Government NASA The Almighty Buck

Boeing Will Make the Military's New Hypersonic Spaceplane (theverge.com) 91

The Department of Defense has selected Boeing to make a new hypersonic spaceplane that can be reused frequently over a short period of time to deliver multiple satellites into orbit. "DARPA, the agency that tests new advanced technologies for the military, has picked Boeing's design concept, called the Phantom Express, to move forward as part of the agency's Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program," reports The Verge. From the report: The goal of DARPA's XS-1 program is to create a spacecraft that's something of a hybrid between an airplane and a traditional vertical rocket. The spaceplane is meant to take off vertically and fly uncrewed to high altitudes above Earth. From there, the vehicle will release a mini-rocket -- a booster with an engine that can propel a satellite weighing up to 3,000 pounds into orbit. As the booster deploys the satellite, the spaceplane will then land back on Earth horizontally just like a normal airplane -- and then be fueled up for its next mission. DARPA wants the turnaround time between flights to last just a few hours. But perhaps the most audacious goal is the price DARPA wants for each flight. The agency is aiming for the spaceplane to cost $5 million per mission, a significant bargain considering most orbital rockets cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to launch. And Boeing says it's up to the task. "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," Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works, said in a statement.
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Boeing Will Make the Military's New Hypersonic Spaceplane

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  • >spaceplane

    Impossible

    • Re:jajahaha (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Max_W ( 812974 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @03:44AM (#54482657)

      >spaceplane

      Impossible

      It does not matter, it does not influence the financial flow.

    • I'm not sure why so many comments are mocking this.

      It is a similar delivery system rumored as possible using the Canadian Arrow (CF105) plane (likely a myth) but it benefits from not having a human passenger or pilot.

      I'm sure cost overruns are on the venue and there might be mentions of "government waste", but from the looks of it, I'm betting that this will work as intended.
      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
        Considering several competing designs existed back in the early to mid 80s (remember NASP?) and that the only thing keeping that from really going forward was a lack of sufficient jet / SCRAM technology to get the plane to super sonic speeds, it's quite highly possible.
  • So, would this be enough to get one person into orbit (including spacesuit)? Would it be enough to include some sort of heat shield/parachute?

    I know this sounds crazy but a long long time ago I read that it might be possible to de-orbit a single astronaut be using a very large low density shield (high temperature rigid foam?!) and very gradually decelerate from orbital velocity shedding speed (and heat) slowly enough that it wouldn't incinerate the structure (or astronaut). I heard that NASA was investiga

  • Vs Rockets? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @04:09AM (#54482701)

    I like the idea of these scramjet planes, but I struggle to see how they are going to be economical vs the sort of thing Musk/Bezos are planning with reusability (I understand this is for significantly smaller payloads). In the end, is it really that big a deal having to carry oxidiser for the first stage with you? As Musk keeps arguing, the fuel costs are not a big issue with rocket launches, and the size of your rocket isn't such an issue if you can reuse it enough times.

    In contrast, the main problem I see with these scramjets is that the atmospheric conditions required to allow scramjet operation (speed and density) also produce massive heating and drag on the airframe. Presumably you must carry extra fuel to pay for the ability to collect oxidiser, and it would be interesting to see just how much of an improvement in fuelling costs these designs can achieve in the best case.

    For spaceplanes to really come into their own I would have thought a single stage to orbit system would really be required. Reaction Engines seems to think this is possible, but I doubt it is coming anytime in the next decade. Still, great to see progress being made on new concepts.

    • Re:Vs Rockets? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @04:40AM (#54482767)
      I don't think this is supposed to have a scramjet at all. The idea is simply to have a suborbital airplane in the Mach 10-13 region or so (for which you don't need a scramjet) that would allow the payload to reach orbit with a lower-cost second stage while serving as a first stage that is more easily reusable (lands like a glider, only needs a single engine burn - less wear - , the engine design can be conservative due to lower requirements etc.), doesn't use anything unproven (and no complicated TPS thanks to the suborbital regime), and also doubles as a (reusable) payload fairing (the payload and the second stage are only ejected in vacuum). It's actually a brilliant concept that could quite easily scale into the ~20 tonne region, but the aircraft would be necessarily larger. Hence the smaller prototype.
      • by phayes ( 202222 )

        It's not a scramjet as it uses Shuttle derived AR-22 H2/LOX rocket engines.

        The problem is that either there is something missing in the released info or the XS-1 will never be able to deliver the claimed performance. H2/LOX is a great upper stage combination but a very poor first stage as liquid H2 has so little density (1/12th the density of RP-1) that it needs massive (heavy) tanks. The Shuttle needed SRBs to get off the ground for the very same reason.

        So where are the missing SRBs, where do they attach a

        • Re:Vs Rockets? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (ecirpdrahcir)> on Thursday May 25, 2017 @06:53AM (#54483133)

          I have no idea how much it affects the figures, but remember that with *every* launch, the Shuttle was lifting a fuckton load of structure, whether or not that structure supported the payloads mission or not.

          Of course I'm talking about the crew compartment and supporting systems. They weighed a *lot*. Add to that the payload bay, which itself was a significant structure.

          Think about it this way - each payload bay door on the Shuttle weighed 3/4 of the weight of the payload that the XS-1 is intended to launch.

          Get rid of the systems required to keep a crew alive, put the fuel in the payload bay area, and you can cut down the weight of the shuttle fairly dramatically - add to that the fact that you can get a *lot* of weight saving from use of modern materials (the Shuttle was traditional aluminium, you could easily drop a third of that weight by moving to composites).

          • by phayes ( 202222 )

            Losing the Shuttle's cargo bay & manned section won't help (enough) to bring their launch costs down to their announced costs of $5M/Launch. Delta IV uses H2/Lox as well, doesn't have wings that'll impose their own weight & drag penalties and yet it still needs 2-4 costly strap-on boosters for many payloads. They're claiming just $5M per launch, without recovering the second stage nor (as far as I have seen) the payload shroud. Hell, Space-X is now working on recovering their shrouds because they co

            • I think people are looking too hard at the wrong things here to come up with issues.

              Look at it this way - the Falcon 1, which admittedly was only planned for around 1,500lb to LEO (and never demonstrated anything above 500lb) was priced at just $8million for a full throwaway vehicle, so we are in the ball park certainly!

              The Shuttle lifted 60,000lb to LEO.

              The Delta IV lifts 20,000lb to LEO at the lowest end (and it doesnt need strap on boosters for this payload).

              The Falcon 9 lifts 50,000lb to LEO (and doesn'

              • A throw away second stage for a 3,000lb payload should be doable for $5million.

                Chances are that a throw-away second stage for a 30,000lb payload could be doable for $5 million, at least in mass production. (At least Merlin 1D price should be quite a bit under $2 million these days...) Now mate it with a suitable winged first stage (I keep picturing a ramjet+rocket stage with horizontal takeoff from a rail - saves landing gear mass and oxygen mass) and you're all set!

              • by phayes ( 202222 )

                OK, so it's a light launcher (thanks for calling me on that - i missed it).

                That brings up a whole new set of remarks/questions though:
                The XS-1 is seeking to be an actor in the light satellite market that Electron (for one) is targeting, that Space-X abandoned after a single Falcon-1 commercial launch & that BO won't even look at. It's true that there have been noises about sats being miniaturised and no longer having to be as big to have equivalent performance and that the more pertinent strangle point

                • That brings up a whole new set of remarks/questions though:
                  The XS-1 is seeking to be an actor in the light satellite market that Electron (for one) is targeting, that Space-X abandoned after a single Falcon-1 commercial launch & that BO won't even look at. It's true that there have been noises about sats being miniaturised and no longer having to be as big to have equivalent performance and that the more pertinent strangle point is being able to launch without having to wait 5 years to find a compatible ride to orbit as a secondary payload without it costing an inordinate amount of money. Thats something the XS-1 adresses quite clearly but the light sat market won't really exist until these inexpensive, "low latency" launchers starts lofting paying customers si it might not be as big a market as they hope.

                  You are assuming that the XS-1 will be launching commercial payloads - its a DoD DARPA contract, this is going to be a military system, hence no need to wait for a light sat market that may not develop. Its going to be launching military satellites - probably short term communications or ELINT platforms, or even weapons.

                  SpaceX dropped the Falcon 1 because they got the NASA CRS contract, and the Falcon 1 couldn't do that - they also dropped the Falcon 5 for the same reason, and simply concentrated on the Fa

                  • by phayes ( 202222 )

                    So XS-1 is the flip side of the X-37, instead of a reusable payload, it's a reusable booster for light launches but it'll never be built in quantity and thus the dangled $5M/launch will in all probability never happen because it presupposes a rapid & regular launch regime. It'll have the occasional operational launch but will spend most of it's time as an expensive hangar queen, to be used to repopulate the USG's stable of Sats in case an adversary starts taking them out.

                    They could have said so...

                    Cheer

        • Well, for a number of reasons, hydrogen is a bad choice for the spaceplane first stage. RP-1 or methane would be ideal. This is unfortunate. These programs tend to get worse over time, it seems.
      • It's actually a brilliant concept that could quite easily scale into the ~20 tonne region, but the aircraft would be necessarily larger. Hence the smaller prototype.

        I beg to differ, It's a blatant attempt to award a "make work" program to the good 'ol boys, because SpaceX is on the verge of handing United Launch Allience's ass to them. It's also not up to the "brilliant concept" level, it basically a first stage rocket boaster with wings and landing gear; you get all of the drag of wings, plus the mechanical complications of landing gear.

        • But you see, that's not a contradiction. The overall concept can be simultaneously brilliant and handed off to "good ol' boys" to be executed poorly. Seeing as they now decided to use an AR hydrolox engine, it's apparently both. I didn't notice the engine choice in the previous news on this; either they made it recently or didn't bother to report on that.
        • I should also add the vertical launch: that's also not a good idea and one that I didn't notice in older articles either.
    • Re:Vs Rockets? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dorianny ( 1847922 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @06:09AM (#54482977) Journal
      The turnaround time for a plane is far less then for a reusable rocket. My speculation is that the Air force wants this technology in case of all out war with a nation with advanced rocket technology (Russia or China) that would target and wipe out large chunks of its satellite systems. There is little that can be done to protect satellites in orbit, my belief is that the air-force solution is to put them up faster then they can shoot them down. Some of the "satellites" can even be dummies for the simple purpose of depleting enemy anti-satellite ordinance
      • The turnaround time for a plane is far less then for a reusable rocket.

        True - but irrelevant, as (despite it's name) the XS-1 is a rocket, not a plane. All the things that make a rocket slower to turnaround (cryogenic systems, rocket engines) are present on the XS-1.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In terms of physics, the fuel costs are everything with chemical rockets. It isn't dollars so much as mass. Some fuels are "can't get there from here" because the energy vs mass just won't allow certain actions. The energy from fuel vs mass is THE limiting factor with chemical rockets.

      Any space plane that goes above the atmosphere is a waste. The wings serve no function in space. They are dead weight. A plan that has a plane in the atmospheric portion of the launch followed by a conventional rocket for the

  • new hypersonic spaceplane that can be reused frequently over a short period of time to deliver multiple satellites into orbit.

    Is the description of this craft's operation supposed to be a euphemism?

    When the military talks about "delivery" they usually mean weapons: bombs. And the simplest explanation of why they would need to deliver many "satellites" with a turn around of a few hours would be if those "satellites" were disposable. Is this development really just a space-based weapon system? One that uses orbital (or sub-orbital) platforms to bomb targets from space.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Anti-orbital weapons could dispose of satellites whether they are meant to be disposable or not. The maximum payload is an order of magnitude lighter than that of a B-2, so I don't think it's meant to be used as a strategic bomber.

    • If you could deliver a tonne and a half of payload into orbit for a few million dollars, you'd attract quite a lot of non-bombing customers.
      • If you could deliver a tonne and a half of payload into orbit for a few million dollars, you'd attract quite a lot of non-bombing customers.

        And making that cheaper is somehow a good thing? Exactly how many tonnes of shit do we expect to be able to put up in orbit before the inevitable happens?

        We humans haven't exactly done a good job at keeping Earth tidy, neat, and organized. Turning our orbit at any level into a giant clusterfuck of garbage flying around at high speed isn't exactly the wisest plan if we would like to continue to navigate through it safely with spacecraft.

        • And making that cheaper is somehow a good thing?

          Yes.

          We humans haven't exactly done a good job at keeping Earth tidy, neat, and organized.

          Actually, we seem to follow a pattern of letting shit get out of hand and then correcting. Western Europe and the US have improved their environments significantly over the last 50 years. China is just beginning to figure this out as well.

          • And making that cheaper is somehow a good thing?

            Yes.

            We humans haven't exactly done a good job at keeping Earth tidy, neat, and organized.

            Actually, we seem to follow a pattern of letting shit get out of hand and then correcting. Western Europe and the US have improved their environments significantly over the last 50 years. China is just beginning to figure this out as well.

            Uh, letting shit "get out of hand" in orbit would likely result in the modern world being thrown back into the proverbial stone age. Gonna be hard to "correct" it all after satellites play ping pong and destroy each other, and we've created an artificial ring of space junk around our planet.

            GPS is used as the key timing source for high-speed communications. Hell, forget comm links, the younger generation doesn't even know what a paper map is in order to navigate on this planet, and they couldn't survive w

            • Gonna be hard to "correct" it all after satellites play ping pong and destroy each other, and we've created an artificial ring of space junk around our planet.

              Also going to be hard to clean all that up without cheap access to space.

            • Space debris is a solvable problem: it mostly sticks to predictable orbits where you can navigate around it, and we have several ideas for de-orbiting the junk. Using a laser from the ground to ablate it (on the side facing its direction of travel) would impart de-orbiting acceleration and cause it to drop into the atmosphere.
    • Rods from the Gods delivery system? I wonder what the delta-v requirements would be to get a payload into a highly elliptical orbit (so you get lots of re-entry velocity) with a negative altitude perigee. You'd probably save a lot of fuel by not circularising your orbit (and then needing more to drop the perigee down again. Might have to boot up KSP...

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The rest of the world has mapped out every US spy and mil communications platform.
      They know the hours when the US is looking down.
      The US tried to make its spy sats really hard to see but they still get detected by people and nations.
      Projects like this allow the US to add a lot more look down hardware if needed. New orbit times that will not allow other nations to predict or hide in time.
      The other fear of the US mil is emerging anti-satellite weapon systems removing a few of its very advance systems.
  • Cost? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @05:27AM (#54482877)
    Sorry to be cynical, but reading news on contracts like this it seems that the one group getting the worst deal are the American Tax-Payers.

    The article doesn't say, but does anyone know if this is a fixed-price-bid or a "Cost-Plus" contract?

    The differences could be absolutely huge. You only need to compare the cost-per-kilo-to-orbit of the various solutions being developed today (Falcon Heavy, New Glenn, SLS) to see how hugely expensive the government-funded solutions are in comparison with commercial enterprises.

    I'm not for one moment suggesting that the new platform is a waste of money, just that it's value for money may have a huge dependency on the way that the contract is written.
  • I, for one, welcome our new suborbital rocket-launcher platforms.

  • Good news, everyone! Boeing is making the first prototype for our delivery service of the future.

  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Thursday May 25, 2017 @07:53AM (#54483455) Journal
    What dolt at DARPA - an organization filled with pretty savvy people - came up with the acronym "XS-1"? Just say it out loud: "excess one". It just screams of government waste, no matter the merits.

    I guess it could have been worse - the program's expanded name is "experimental spaceplane." If they had made spaceplane two words instead of one, the program could have been called "XSP", or "excess pee".
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's the US aircraft designation system.

      X = Experimental
      S = Space plane vehicle type
      1 = Designation number

      Just to to give you an idea:

      *YF-16: Prototype Fighter 16, what the F16 Fighting Falcon was desginated before being selected as the Light Weight Fighter program winner.
      *X-1, experimental plane 1. First aircraft designed to go super sonic

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Defense_Aerospace_Vehicle_Designations

      As Wikipedia notes: Spaceplane. A spaceplane is a vehicle designed to

  • This is Boeing's next government trough after the boondoggled SLS and the new AF tanker program.
  • Why am I seeing ads on TV telling me how great Northrop Grumman is? As much as I'd like to have my own B2 they're a little pricey and hard to park.

  • Instead of the boosters putting the shuttle into space, the shuttle is now putting the booster into space. Quite an advancement.
  • At first, Boeing was partnering with Blue Origin on the engine. However, once they actually got this contract, they drop BO and switch over to Aerojet Rocketdyne; AR used to be called Boeing Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power before being spun off, merged, etc a few times. To me, this seems like a step backwards going back to the space plane idea; landing "normal rockets" has been proven now by two separate companies. It will be interesting to see if they can actually fulfill Phase III, 10 flights in 10 da
  • "Spaceplane" sounds like something piloted by a clean-limbed patriot in 1950s science fiction. This is a exospheric military drone.
  • The problem here is similar to that for fission power plants: clean-up. Until we can clear the LEO clutter so that the current occupancy can be managed, it's arguably not a great idea to fill the space with even more small systems.
  • We're going to eject tax money hypersonically into space is all this means ...

    What is a space plane going to stop from hitting us?

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