The U.S. military’s current expendable launch vehicles and infrastructure were originally developed in the 1950’s by modifying intercontinental ballistic missiles. Although many improvements have been incorporated over the decades, launch systems today have grown increasingly expensive and must be procured years in advance of launch, impacting both the affordability of launching national security payloads as well as the cost and complexity of the payloads themselves. In an era of declining budgets and proliferating foreign threats to U.S. air and space assets, routine, affordable and responsive access to space is essential to enabling new military space capabilities and rapid reconstitution of space systems during crisis.
The objective of the Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 program is to demonstrate the technology needed to fabricate and fly a reusable aircraft to the edge of space. The XS-1 will be capable of deploying a small expendable upper stage to launch a 3,000-pound spacecraft to earth orbit at a cost of $5M, ten times less than today’s launch systems. A key program objective is to fly 10 times in 10 days to demonstrate “aircraft-like” operability, cost efficiency and reliability. Key anticipated characteristics of the XS-1 aircraft include a physical size and dry weight typical of today’s business jets.
The XS-1 program aims to mature and transition key technologies, systems and operational processes to the military and commercial sectors supporting both next-generation launch and global-reach aircraft. Missions performed by such aircraft could include responsive launch, hypersonic flight test, and global-reach intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
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