DARPA asks for more money for its ALASA and XS-1 space plane programmes as it awards Boeing contract

by | Mar 26, 2014 | Technology | 0 comments

While the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) may have an air of unreality about it given the limited monies attributed to the project, but it is apparently going forward with its XS-1 (Experimental Spaceplane 1) programme for a reusable space plane to dramatically reduce the costs of getting 1,000-2,500kg satellites into orbit.  Its Fiscal Year 2014 spend on the project is $10 million but DARPA proposes increasing this to $27 million for the Fiscal Year 2015 which should include a Preliminary Design Review for a finalist chosen from competitor designs.  It has been mooted that the design may have an air-breathing element in a similar vein to the Skylon concept thought up by the UK Reaction Engines firm.

For a smaller scale air-launched launch vehicle the agency is pursuing its ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access) project to which DARPA proposes to invest $55 million in Fiscal Year 2015.  This represents a steady increase of over this year’s spend of $42.5 million and $29.3 million in FY 2013.  Boeing has noted that it has received a 11-month, $30.6-million contract with options to build up to 12 of the 24-foot vehicles.  With all the options, the contract could be worth as much as $104 million.

At one point it was thought that the design would involve the Boeing multi-stage air breathing concept to launch a 45kg payload into low Earth orbit for less than $1 million.  While Boeing has not promised this price, it has announced that it is aiming to reduce launch costs for this size of payload by at least 66%. by plumping for a more conventional rocket air-dropped concept.  This uses a 7.3m long rocket dropped from an F-15E fighter jet at 40,000 feet.

The rocket does have a unique configuration in having four rocket engines forward-mounted. This configuration allows just the fuel tank stages to fall away as the engines fire all the way to orbit.  Experts point out that there are some problems with this configuration.   There may be cooling issues for the rocket engines in having such a long burn time. Likewise, while better for trimming and balance for the overall launch vehicle, front mounted engines would have other issues to contend with. In order to avoid impingement by the rocket engine’s very hot plume, the engines would have to be either mounted away from the rocket body adding weight to the structure, or have their thrust inefficiently canted (angled) away from the body.  The artwork provided by Boeing seems to indicate a bit of both. Details of the propellants have not been released.

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 https://www.seradata.com/product/

Related Articles

SATELLITE 2023: Updates on Project Kuiper and surprise antennas reveal

For the Tuesday opening keynote talk at the SATELLITE 2023 show in Washington DC, Dave Limp, the Senior Vice President Read more

SpaceX launches Crew-6 to ISS

Endeavour, a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four people for NASA's Crew-6 mission, is on its way to the International Space Read more

Astra Rocket 3.3 failure cause: a burn through caused by blocked regenerative cooling…after ground testing-implied incorrect design assumptions

Astra Space has released its investigation findings into the Astra Rocket 3.3 launch failure which lost a pair of NASA's Read more

SpaceX launches new design V2 Mini satellites as Starlink Group 6-1 on a Falcon 9 rocket

SpaceX is transitioning to a new design of spacecraft as it takes its Starlink constellation forward. The Starlink Group 6-1 Read more

NASA goes Nuclear Thermal as it plans to launch engine on DARPA’s DRACO project test mission in 2027

Nuclear Thermal rocket propulsion has been mooted since the 1960s. The idea is to use nuclear power to heat rocket Read more

Freshly minted Kongsberg NanoAvionics receives CubeSat orders from two French customers

Lithuanian smallsat manufacturer NanoAvionics - now known as Kongsberg NanoAvionics - has been awarded satellite contracts from two French companies. Read more

China launches a technology test satellite, Shiyan 21

At 0617 GMT on 16 December a Long March 11 (CZ-11) rocket placed the Shiyan 21 test satellite into LEO. Read more

Upcoming American in-orbit servicer Starfish Space contracts with launch arranger to get its demonstrator into orbit

On 9 November Starfish Space an American newspace company contracted with Launcher a compatriot to carry its first demonstration satellite Read more