DARPA Picks Boeing To Build Its New Space Plane

An artist rendering of the XS-1 Spaceplane

An artist rendering of the XS-1 Spaceplane DARPA

The research agency hopes its XS-1 jumpstarts a whole new industry of very-low-cost satellite launches.

Boeing did such a good job plotting out the commercial future of a reusable satellite-launching plane that they’re going to get to build it—and just maybe, launch a whole new low-cost satellite industry.

On Thursday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, announced that Boeing had won the contract for Phases 2 and 3 of the XS-1 “space plane,” a reusable craft meant to launch 10 satellites in 10 days by 2021 or so, a goal that is key to the future of global military satellite communications.

“We’re very pleased with Boeing’s progress on the XS-1 through Phase 1 of the program and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in this newly funded progression to Phases 2 and 3—fabrication and flight,” program manager Jess Sponable said in a Thursday press release.

Phase 2 covers the manufacture of the craft and Phase 3 covers final testing: 12 to 15 flights in 2020.

Being able to launch a satellite into low earth orbit every day would be a huge boost to the military. Currently, it costs about $350 million to launch a 1,500- to 3,000-pound satellite, and that’s far less than when the space plane program was originally conceived. By contrast, DARPA hopes the hypersonic XS-1 will do each job for $5 million.

Ultimately, DARPA officials want to give the XS-1 to a private company to own and operate, so long as the company keeps launching the military’s satellites, according to a 2016 presentation Sponable gave last year. In the same way that the military is looking increasingly to the commercial market for services, DARPA doesn’t want a “military space plane” so much as it wants a viable space-plane industry that can run missions for the military.

Boeing has experience in reusable spacecraft design, having built the Air Force’s X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle, which reaches spaces aboard a rocket launch vehicle but returns to earth as a plane.

But in order to win the Phase 2 contract (beating out Northrop Grumman and Masten Space Systems) Boeing had to provide a plan for how they would turn the XS-1 into a moneymaker, and demonstrate an “understanding of current and projected demand by key market segments,” Sponable said in his presentation.

The global market for low-cost space access is booming louder and bigger every year. A few years ago, one projection estimated that more than 2,500 small and micro satellites would launch between 2014 and 2020.

Satellites are the key to expanding high-bandwidth data transfer around the globe. Billions of people around the world want to consume high-definition and ultra-high-definition television on tiny mobile devices. They are joined by a proliferating menagerie of internet-of-things devices and sensors that also need to communicate what they see and sense.

The military, too, needs to pump video streams from drones overhead to soldiers downrange. All of those market streams will grow considerably through 2030, say market analysts at Frost and Sullivan. More and more will go through constellations of small satellites. Someone has to put those in space—the more cheaply, the better.

Add to that the gathering swarm of aerial objects in the air, from commercial planes to drones, to experimental flying cars for Silicon Valley billionaires that also need satellite communication and navigation.

“There is an increasing need for satellite connectivity in commercial aviation owing to the operational need for seamless connectivity. Airlines are implementing satcom in their flight operations to track and communicate with their aircraft when they are out of reach for line-of-sight radio infrastructure. The satcom equipment and service market are rapidly growing,” the Frost and Sullivan analysts note.

In Sponable’s 2016 presentation, he described “increased opportunity for U.S. launch providers due to significant growth in market share for domestic and friendly foreign systems.”

The presentation called for would-be space plane builders to provide a “top-level transition plan outlining additional activities needed to establish a commercial business, timeline associated with each and how those activities fit within the Proposer’s Gate Review process.” Wednesday’s announcement means that Boeing won by showing how they would conquer the market for it.

DARPA is now looking to help groom the future satellite delivery industry to help Boeing.

“Another goal of the program is to encourage the broader commercial launch sector to adopt useful XS-1 approaches, processes, and technologies that facilitate launch on demand and rapid turnaround—important military and commercial needs for the 21st century,” DARPA said in its statement Thursday. “Toward that goal, DARPA intends to release selected data from its Phase 2/3 tests and will provide to all interested commercial entities the relevant specs for potential payloads.”

The name of the plane? “Phantom Express.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.