Boeing has been selected by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to build an experimental unmanned hypersonic spaceplane called the Phantom Express.
The project is part of the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program.
The Phantom Express will be an autonomous, reusable aircraft designed to launch small satellites into low Earth orbit. The goal is for it to provide a faster and more affordable way of small satellite launches compared to conventional methods.
“Phantom Express is designed to disrupt and transform the satellite launch process as we know it today, creating a new, on-demand space-launch capability that can be achieved more affordably and with less risk,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works.
The Phantom Express is being designed to reach the edge of space and deploy small expendable upper stage to launch small (3,000 pound/1,361 kg) satellites. It would return to Earth after deploying the satellites and land on a runway “to be prepared for its next flight by applying operation and maintenance principles “similar to modern aircraft.”
The spaceplane will be powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine, a version of the legacy Space Shuttle main engine, which uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel.
Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake said in a news release that the AR-22 “has a demonstrated track record of solid performance and proven reusability.”
“As threats to our nation’s space systems increase, it is imperative that we have the ability to rapidly deploy replacement assets,” Drake said. “This demonstration program is vitally important to maintaining assured access to space, which remains a top priority for our nation.”
Boeing and DARPA are planning to carry out a demonstration of 10 flights over 10 days during the test phase of the program.