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DARPA and Boeing have teamed up to build a hypersonic aircraft that could someday make space travel as affordable as its terrestrial counterparts.

Developed under DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 program, the new aircraft named Phantom Express could help reduce the cost of putting a satellite in orbit, which according to DARPA would be $5 million per launch or less.

According to the team’s engineers, the unmanned, business-sized jet will take off vertically like a rocket and fly to hypersonic speeds. Once it reaches the edge of space, it will release an expendable second stage capable of deploying a satellite.

The reusable first stage would then bank and return to Earth, landing horizontally like an aircraft, and be prepared for the next flight, reports The Engineer.

“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,” said Boeing Phantom Works president, Darryl Davis.

The spaceplane will be powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine which has been designed to be reusable and operates using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel.

The designers also plan to take advantage of technologies and support systems that have enhanced the reliability and fast turnaround of military aircraft. For example, easily accessible subsystem components configured as line replaceable units would be used wherever practical to enable quick maintenance and repairs.

Other key technologies include lightweight composite cryogenic tanks to hold the propellants; hybrid composite-metallic wings and control surfaces able to withstand the physical stresses of suborbital hypersonic flight, and autonomous flight technologies developed through DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program.

Image credits, video, content and excerpts: DARPA/The Engineer

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