DARPA Phantom Express Space Shuttle
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced last year that Boeing dropped out of its experimental space plane program, but the XS-1 Phantom Express is definitely worth taking a closer look at. Despite looking similar to NASA’s space shuttle, this vehicle is comprised of two major components, a space plane powered by a single AR-22 reusable cryogenic rocket engine and an expendable upper stage.

The XS-1 Phantom Express looks like a small business jet on the ground and takes off vertically like a typical rocket, but is capable of reaching hypersonic speeds into Low Earth Orbit before expending the upper stage. It would then re-enter the atmosphere and land autonomously on a runway. The agencies aimed for a recurring cost of just $5-million per flight including the cost of the expendable upper stage.

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Phantom Express is designed to disrupt and transform the satellite launch process as we know it today, creating a new, on-demand space-launch capability that can be achieved more affordably and with less risk. The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand,” said Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works.

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