Many people believe that the next World War will not only take place on the oceans and land masses of the world but will also be fought in space. Are we talking about X-wing fighters with blasters and Death stars? Probably not; but, satellite-launched weapons and destroying enemy satellites will most likely be a certainty (despite the fact that the space treaty prohibits many of these things). In preparation for that possibility, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has awarded preliminary design contracts to three companies to submit proposals of their versions of this new robotic space plane.
The three groups involved in designing the prototype space plane are all tandem efforts that include Northrup Grumman-Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems-XCOR Aerospace and Boeing-Blue Origin. Each group must provide detailed renderings of what the aircraft will look like and also must describe in detail the features of their design which will make it unique and functional.
There are 4 specific goals that each group’s robotic space plane must be designed to meet. They consist of the following:
- The aircraft must not only have the ability to be reused, it must be able to do 10 flights in just 10 days
- It must be able to achieve speeds sufficient enough to deliver payloads in low earth orbit
- The robotic space plane design should be able to deliver payloads up to 3000 pounds
- Each flight must be able to be executed for under 5 million dollars
As was stated, these are the minimum goals for the aircraft and chances are the design that is selected for production and testing will be able to do much more than just this. DARPA runs a tight ship, so it would be foolish to expect anything less with this project.
Final selection of the winning design will take place sometime in 2017 and the first prototype is expected to be ready in 2018 or 2019 with the first test flights taking place by the year 2020. The company that wins the contract will most assuredly have other deadlines they must meet along the way too.
Why the robotic space plane? The Pentagon cited a need for fast, affordable and recoverable access to space. Manned missions take too long to get off the ground for safety reasons and things such as the space shuttle are no longer an option.
It will surprise many people to learn that the super-secret X-37B drone is already capable of doing some of these things that are design requirements of the XS-1. The simple fact that this aircraft has only flown four times in six years lead many to believe that the aircraft is a design failure. As far as anyone knows, only two prototypes are all that have been produced.
It will be interesting to see if the company that wins the XS-1 contract can deliver a robotic aircraft that can truly meet all the requirements that the Pentagon has requested.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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