You can hear the champagne corks popping here in Seattle as Boeing is awarded the contract to make DARPA’s cool experimental spaceplane. The company was competing with Northrop Grumman and Masten Space Systems to design the craft.

The XS-1, as it’s called, would allow for relatively cheap and simple trips to space for launching and testing satellites and all that sort of thing. The goal is to get costs down to as little as $5 million per launch all told, and be able to fly at least 10 times a year.

It’s meant to be a fusion of all the high-tech stuff from NASA, the Air Force and private sector aerospace, like lightweight cryogenic propellant tanks and super-strong and durable composite wings that can handle re-entry temperatures. It should be able to go at speeds up to Mach 10, and deliver payloads weighing up to 3,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit.

As is the usual case for these multi-million-dollar super-high-tech programs, there’s a demonstration video that looks like it was put together by a middle-schooler in 2005:

“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,” said DARPA program manager Jess Sponable in a news release.

This second phase of the design process goes through 2019, during which time the design will be finalized and the propulsion system (a modified Space Shuttle engine) tested thoroughly. After that, a dozen flight tests are scheduled for 2020. The final trial will be to fly 10 times over 10 days going at least Mach 5.

You can follow the project’s updates and view more details on the testing and capabilities over at DARPA’s website.



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