Launching satellites into orbit could get a lot cheaper thanks to an experimental space plane.
This week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) revealed the design for the XS-1, which is set to be built by Boeing. The hypersonic aircraft would launch vertically, deploy a second stage to carry a satellite into orbit, and then land like a normal airplane.
Although the aircraft is still in the concept phase, DARPA believes the final result will be a vehicle that will provide “short-notice, low-cost access to space” for both military and commercial use. Initial tests of the XS-1 technology will attempt 10 flights over the course of 10 days with the ultimate goal being routine low-Earth orbit flights for around $5 million or less per launch. (Currently, it costs SpaceX about $62 million to launch its Falcon 9 rocket into orbit.)
“We’re delighted to see this truly futuristic capability coming closer to reality,” DARPA’s Brad Tousley said in a statement on the agency’s website. “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.”
And while this futuristic space plane and the opportunities it may afford sound exciting, actual flight tests aren’t scheduled to happen until 2020. For now, you’ll have to use the concept video (above) to imagine this very near future of space travel.