DARPA Looking for Space Plane Inventors
Kyle Maxey posted on September 23, 2013 |
Agency seeks technical proposals for space plane that can launch satellites

Darpa, spaceplane, satellite, militaryDARPA, the US militaries advanced technology incubator, is known for  high-risk/high reward ventures. Now the agency may have outdone itself; DARPA is seeking technical proposals for a space plane that can achieve “aircraft-like operations in orbit”.

Called the Experimental Spaceplane Project (XS-1), DARPA’s intends for the venture to reduce the cost and ready-time of satellite launches that are critical for monitoring volatile situations around the world. Currently, satellite launches can cost millions of dollars, require years of advanced planning, and involve an army of specially trained technicians to supervise every stage of the satellite launch.

In a world where security concerns can change overnight, DARPA wants to ensure that the US military has the ability to look in on any situation anywhere on the planet, within 24 hours.

To do this DARPA wants to develop a reusable unmanned spaceplane that could operate from a traditional landing strip using minimal ground crew. The plane would need to carry a payload the size of a small satellite and be able to operate at hypersonic speeds to propel the craft into orbit.  Once in orbit the XS-1 would need to deploy its satellite cargo and return to a friendly landing strip somewhere on Earth.  

While the technology required to create the XS-1 will definitely be new and advanced, DARPA is nonetheless looking to have serious technical proposals on the table by October 7, giving innovators little time to develop ideas for the project. According to Jess Sponable, the XS-1’s program manager, although the project seems daunting the agency is up for any practical solution, “How [the XS-1 is] configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table—we’re looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible.”

Sometimes that kind of openness (coupled with a time crunch) leads to profound innovation.

Image Courtesy of DARPA

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