Spaceflight Insider

Boeing/DARPA XS-1 to operate from Cape Canaveral


Boeing’s Phantom Express (XS-1) – An autonomous, experimental spaceplane designed to transform the future of rapid, reusable space launch for small satellites. Image & Caption Credit: Boeing

A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) spokesman has stated that Boeing will be launching and landing the agency’s XS-1 spaceplane from Cape Canaveral, Florida, as soon as 2020.

Keeping things busy on the Space Coast

Phantom Express (XS-1)

Artist’s rendition of Boeing’s Phantom Express (XS-1) prior to launch. Image Credit: Boeing

According to a Spaceflight Now report, the business-jet-size rocket would launch vertically from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and land horizontally at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility or the Skid Strip at CCAFS.

The program goal is to fly an X-plane reusable first-stage to demonstrate technology for an operational system capable of launching 3,000–5,000 lb (1,400–2,300 kg) payloads to low Earth orbit for less than $5 million per flight at a launch rate of 10 or more flights a year.

This flight rate will add launch activity to the government side of Cape Canaveral’s growing “multi-user spaceport“.

Military space access continuing development

The XS-1, called “Phantom Express” by Boeing’s Phantom Works, is the company’s second major vehicle designed to support military space needs. While both the X-37B and XS-1 systems include reusable winged vehicles, their mission architectures are quite different.

The X-37B is a winged spacecraft that launches aboard an Atlas or Falcon 9 rocket to conduct long-duration space missions, while XS-1 will be a vertically launched spaceplane that lofts payloads on an upper stage for quick-response launches. X-37 payload capacity is not known, though its fully loaded weight is 11,000 pounds (4,990 kg).

The XS-1 vehicle is currently in the midst of Phase 1 of a three-phase program. In a press release, DARPA program manager Jess Sponable said: “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.”

On May 24, as part of the Phase I activities, DARPA selected Aerojet Rocketdyne to produce the liquid hydrogen / liquid oxygen AR-22 reusable engines for XS-1. The AR-22 is based on the RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engines.

Phase 2 of the XS-1 program, which extends into 2019, will design, construct, and test a technology demonstration vehicle through 2019. The test program will include test-firing the AR-22 engine on the ground ten times in ten days to verify its readiness for flight testing.

DARPA also stated that Phase 3 would include 12 to 15 flight tests, currently scheduled for 2020. “After multiple shakedown flights to reduce risk, the XS-1 would aim to fly 10 times over 10 consecutive days, at first without payloads and at speeds as fast as Mach 5.”

Video courtesy of DARPAtv



Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

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