The XS-1 could replace satellites lost in battle—fast and cheap.
Aerospace giant Boeing just snagged a $6.6 million contract to design a cheap, reusable spaceplane for the U.S. military. The idea: to equip America’s space forces with an airplane-like vehicle that can fly to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and quickly boost small satellites into orbit, and then land, refuel, load up another satellite, and take off again within 24 hours.
The so-called XS-1 program—short for “eXperimental Spaceplane 1”—isn’t a space weapon. Instead, it’s a sort of defense against space weapons—specifically, the growing fleets of killer spacecraft and satellite-destroying rockets that China and Russia are deploying.
U.S. military planners fully expect that, in any future conflict between major world powers, Earth’s orbit will become a battleground as laser-armed satellites stalk each other across orbital planes and ground- and ship-launched rockets lance into space to smash enemy spacecraft.
The country that can recover fastest from the initial orbital carnage stands to dominate space, the ultimate high ground in any high-tech battle. “In an era of declining budgets and adversaries’ evolving capabilities, quick, affordable, and routine access to space is increasingly critical for both national and economic security,” DARPA stated in a press release.
That’s where the XS-1 comes in. DARPA wants the new spaceplane to be able to boost a two-ton satellite into space every day for 10 days straight for less than $5 million per flight.