Boeing together with the Department of Advanced Studies of the Ministry of Defense (DARPA). in the framework of the space exploration program XS-1, they are starting to create a supersonic spacecraft called Phantom Express. The presentation is scheduled for 2020.
Phantom Express will be the first reusable military device with a similar design, capable of delivering a useful cargo weighing up to 1360 kg. The peculiarity of the device will be the possibility of using rocket engines for secret hypersonic launching of satellites and their prompt repair.
In addition, Phantom Express is able to make regular flights with a frequency of once every 10 days, and the cost of maintenance of the device is about $ 5 million, which is much cheaper than the current shipping rates.
At present, the US military uses four-stage Minotaur IV rockets to deliver small satellites into orbit. They are capable of carrying a payload of 1.73 tons. The cost of one launch of such a launch vehicle today is about $ 55 million.
According to Boeing, the new device will be designed like a shuttle. He will receive rocket engines AR-22, constructively based on RS-25 engines, installed on the “space shuttle” within the transport program Space Shuttle.
Aerojet Rocketdyne said it has completed the assembly of its first AR-22 rocket engine built for Boeing under a secret project.
“Phantom Express relies on our legacy of a multiple-use space flight experience to provide the ability to rapidly increase and replace opportunities in orbit that face a growing array of threats from potential adversaries,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne President Eileen Drake. Some experts are sure that it will be possible to use new hypersonic spaceplanes for a new “cold war”.
The new device will carry a cheap consumable second stage. It will be responsible for placing satellites in orbit, after which it will return to the atmosphere and burn. After the prototype assembly is completed, it will be tested. Boeing will have to start the device ten times in a row within ten days.
Project XS-1 started in early 2014 in the form of a tender for the development of space drones. It was attended by consortiums of Boeing and Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems and Xcor Aerospace, as well as Northrop Grumman and Virgin Galactic.
In terms of size, the XS-1 should be comparable to the US F-15 Eagle fighter, about 20 meters long, 5.63 meters high, and the wing span of 13.05 meters. The space drones will be used for military launches as well as commercial purposes.
In the future, orbital drones will be engaged in reconnaissance, as well as launching small satellites into orbit, distributing them there, as well as collecting and returning to the Earth already used vehicles.