Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne to build DARPA two stage reusable spaceplane

by | May 25, 2017 | Military space, Technology

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected Boeing to build its new part-reusable experimental spaceplane (XS-1). Called the Phantom Express, it will act as a first stage carrying an expendable upper stage on top that is designed to deliver small satellites of up to 1,361 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO) and with high launch responsiveness.

The liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen (LOx) powered main propulsion system is based on the legacy reusable space shuttle main engines (SSME) built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The derivative engine has been named the AR-22. After its vertical launch, the plan is for the Phantom Express to fly to the edge of space and then release its dorsally carried upper stage to inject the satellite payload into orbit. The spaceplane would then re-enter and land on a runway to be rapidly prepared for its next mission in an airline-style operation.

The airframe is being built using third-generation thermal protection to allow it to make multiple launches and re-entries safely, with minimal maintenance. In the demonstration flight programme, the two-stage vehicle will make 10 launches and re-entries in 10 days.

The XS-1 Phantom Express and attached expendable upper stage are ready for launch in this artist’s impression. Courtesy: Boeing

For the XS-1 programme, Aerojet Rocketdyne is providing two engines with legacy shuttle flight experience to demonstrate reusability, a wide operating range and rapid turnarounds. These engines, designated as AR-22s, will be assembled from parts that remained in both Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA inventories from early versions of the SSME engines. Assembly and ground testing will take place at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Comment by David Todd: This is a laudable exercise and one that should have taken place decades ago. One question remains, however: Won’t NASA’s SLS need every spare SSME engine part for its RS-25D/E main engine programme?

The XS-1 Phantom Express first stage carries its second stage to the edge of space in this illustration. Courtesy: Boeing


About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned Seradata database. Trusted by over 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, Seradata is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to

Related Articles

Iran launches Noor 3 (Nour 3) satellite using Qased rocket launch

A Qased rocket launch at 0558 GMT on 27 September from the Qased Shahroud Test Centre, Iran, carried the Noor Read more

China launches second Yaogan 33 mission in a month

In a near repeat of a mission which took place earlier this month on 6 September 2023, China has launched Read more

China launches Long March 2D carrying Yaogan 39 trio

China successfully launched a Long March 2D/2 (CZ-2D/2) from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, Sichuan Province, China at 0312 GMT on Read more

Victus Nox payload is launched by Firefly Alpha in rapid response launch test

The Firefly Alpha rocket took off from Vandenberg, California, at 0228 GMT on 15 September in an unexpected launch. The Read more

Chinese Long March 6A rocket carries new Yaogan 40 triplet to LEO

Launching at 0430 GMT on 10 September a Chinese Long March 6A (CZ-6A) rocket carried the Yaogan 40 mission into Read more

Unexpected fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: some call Elon Musk a ‘traitor’ while Putin allegedly trades space tech for North Korean munitions

The effects of Russia’s war with Ukraine are being felt in unexpected places. Elon Musk, CEO and Founder of SpaceX, Read more

ULA Atlas V launches NRO L-107 “Silent Barker” secret satellite mission

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket (Atlas V 551 (RL10C-1-1)/GEM-63) was launched at 1247 GMT on 10 September Read more

China launches Yaogan 33-03 mission on a Long March 4C

Launching at 1814 GMT on 6 September a Chinese Long March 4C (CZ-4C) rocket has carried the Yaogan 33-03 satellite Read more

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches US military Tranche 0 relay and missile tracking satellites

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9v1.2FT Block 5 rocket from Vandenberg launch site in California, USA at 1425 GMT on Read more




nasaspacexecoreviewsissesaArianespacevideochina25virgin galacticfalcon 9ULAFalcon 9v1.2FT Block 5RoscosmosevaDGAspacewalkaviation weekaressoyuzIGTInternational Space StationBeidouawardsspaceBlue OriginSatellite broadcastingRocket LabStarlinkrussiamoonCargo Return VehicleboeingOneWebAirbus DSmarsblogISROresearchorionspaceshiptwojaxaimpacthyperboladelaymarsEutelsatdemocratrocketobamahypertextgoogle lunar prizelunarlaunchVegabarack obamaconstellationSEStourismnorthfiguresthales alenia spacespaceflightnode 2fundedRaymond LygoIntelsat2009Lockheed MartinExpress MD-2Atlas Vromess2Elon Muskdassault aviationaviationLucy2008wk2sstlukradiotestmissilesuborbitaldocking portexplorationAriane 5 ECAVirgin OrbitinternetChina Manned Space EngineeringAriane 5SLSsts-1222010flightspace tourismNorthrop Grummancotsnewspapermissile defensegalileospaceportExpress AMU 1Long March 4CLong March 2D/2Electronbuildspace stationaltairinternational astronautical congresssoyuz 2-1ashuttleProton MEuropean Space AgencyLauncherOneCosmosIntelsat 23scaled compositeshanleybudgetrulesnew yorkAriane 6shenzhouspace shuttleatvVietnamcongressMojaveboldenLong March 2COrbital ATKnew shepardInmarsatGuiana Space Centeriaccneslunar landerksclawsSpace Systems/LoralUK Space AgencyLong March 4BILSUS Air ForceprotonTalulah RileyApollodarpaFalcon 9v1.2 Block 5Kuaizhou 1AVega CSkylonAstriumeupicturebaseusaastronautdragonlanderfiveeventTelesatSSLElectron KSNorth KoreaAprilSNCWednesdayinterviewSea Launchfalcon50thcustomerlinkLong Marchatlantissuccessor