The aircraft is designed to meet the goals set out by DARPA, which include a reusable craft that can travel at hypersonic speeds in the upper atmosphere, all at an economical cost. Last month, the agency awarded similar development contracts to Boeing and Masten Space Systems as well.
Known as XS-1, Northrop Grumman’s spaceplane features a reusable booster that aims to reduce the costs of lifting spacecraft into lower earth orbit to under $5 million per launch.
Northrop Grumman, which has extensive operations in San Diego, is working with Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic to develop its design. Scaled Composites, which is owned by Northrop Grumman, will lead fabrication and assembly, while Virgin Galactic will head commercial spaceplane operations and transition.
A key goal of DARPA’s program is the ability to fly 10 times in 10 days using a minimal ground crew and infrastructure, further reducing the costs of a launch.
Northrop Grumman will rely on technologies from previous aerospace projects to help develop the spaceplane concept, according Vice President of Missile Defense and Advanced Missions Doug Young.
“Our team is uniquely qualified to meet DARPA’s XS-1 operational system goals, having built and transitioned many developmental systems to operational use, including our current work on the world’s only commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo,” Young said in a statement.
Many of the additional features of XS-1 are inspired by commercial airlines, like horizontal landings on standard runways to reduce the need for military support.
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