The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Boeing the contract to build its spaceplane as it attempts to make launching space satellites cheaper and easier.
Known as the XS-1, the goal of the spaceplane is to get costs down to $5 million per launch, as well as flying at least 10 times per year.
“The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager in a press release.
Sponable added that DARPA is "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.”
Below is a concept video of the plane:
Boeing, which beat out Northrop Grumman and Masten Space Systems to build the XS-1, should be able to get the craft up to speeds of Mach 10 and "deploy a 3,000-pound satellite to polar orbit."
The second portion of the design process runs through 2019, when the design will be finalized and a propulsion system will be tested for flights. The third phase includes 12 to 15 test flights, scheduled for 2020, as well as having 10 flights on 10 consecutive days.
“We’re delighted to see this truly futuristic capability coming closer to reality,” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO), which oversees XS-1. “Demonstration of aircraft-like, on-demand, and routine access to space is important for meeting critical Defense Department needs and could help open the door to a range of next-generation commercial opportunities.”