Northrop Grumman unveiled the potential future of space taxis when it released concept artwork of its proposed XS-1 Spaceplane on Tuesday.
The XS-1 is one of three planes in a competition between two other companies hoping to secure a contract from the Defence Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA), according to the Wall Street Journal. Boeing and Masten Space Systems are the other two companies, which won Phase I initial design contracts in July.
“The goal of the program is to fly 10 times in 10 days, and to achieve Mach 10,” Pam Melroy, deputy director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said in an announcement.
Put into perspective, Mach 10 is a pretty insane speed of 7,612 miles per hour. That type of speed could take a craft like this from New York to Tokyo in less than an hour.
Northrop Grumman is developing the XS-1 with the help of Scaled Companies and Virgin Galactic, according to a press release, so Richard Branson’s boast of a supersonic space plane is looking more realistic these days.
It’s not all about speed however. As Space.com notes, DARPA is holding the competition in hopes of lowering the cost of space flight — and with a design contract of $US3.9 million and estimated flight costs of $US5 million — it appears that the XS-1 is a glimpse into a lower-cost future for space travel.
DARPA also wants a spaceplane with a reusable first stage unlike the space shuttles of the past that would shed their boosters, according to Space News. Not only would this design save money, but it would also allow for multiple flights.
XS-1 would also have the ability to carry an expendable upper stage for expending heavier payloads into orbit, according to Space News. The spaceplane is also supposed to be unmanned.
Here a video shows DARPA’s concept of lower level flights coupled with flights that allow a payload to be dropped into orbit:
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