One of the most ardent projects of the U.S. military over the last years was to create a hypersonic spaceplane. Authorities wanted this futuristic machine to meet the necessary conditions for being reused within a small space of time. This way, they would take advantage of this window of opportunity to send multiple satellites into space. With so many requests, no company seemed to be up to the challenge until now.
The Hypersonic Spaceplane Is a Hybrid Between Rocket and Airplane
The Department of Defense has chosen Boeing to build their much awaited hypersonic spaceplane. There is already a design concept in place which was dubbed as the Phantom Express. This project belongs to Experimental Spaceplane program of DARPA. This agency is in charge of identifying new modern technology for military purposes.
The Experimental Spaceplane program is looking for a low-cost method to send satellites into orbit. After large deliberations, specialists decided that the best way to attain this is a hybrid. The result would keep the traditional vertical rocket, but it also has the functionality of an airplane at the same time.
The mission entails launching the rocket into space with no onboard crew. Once into orbit, the spacecraft will activate the satellite. However, the 3,000-pound body will have its own engine. Afterward, the spaceplane will return to Earth and land in a horizontal position. It will receive fuel and additional preparations for the mission.
DARPA Demanded Seemingly Unrealistic Features
DARPA also claimed some difficult features for this project. For instance, each mission should take only a few hours. This period also includes prep time for the next mission. Moreover, the agency is looking for a budget of $5 million per mission. By comparison, most basic orbital rockets need at least tens of millions of dollars for a successful quest.
Despite all these challenges, Boeing accepted this assignment. The company wants to pioneer a new approach to rocket launching. The president of Boeing Phantom Works, Darryl Davis, is confident that they can reinvent a space mission with fewer risks and affordable budgets.
“Phantom Express is designed to disrupt and transform the satellite launch process as we know it today.”
There is already a prototype of an ambitious hypersonic spaceplane. It is geared with an AR-22 engine. Boeing also has green light to initiate phase two and phase three of the program. This entails building and testing the technology at ground level. In 2020, the vehicle will be ready for up to 15 test flights.
Image source: Boeing