DARPA Picks Boeing, Masten, Northrop for Hypersonic Spaceplane Program

Boeing (NYSE: BA), Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman(NYSE: NOC) have been awarded prime contracts to develop a reusable unmanned launch vehicle for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

DARPA intends to use the vehicle to send small satellites into low-Earth orbit by using expendable upper stages, the agency said Tuesday.

The companies will work to build a demonstration vehicle, assess core technologies and processes for risk reduction and develop a fabrication and flight test blueprint for the system under first phase of the Experimental Spaceplane program.

“We chose performers who could prudently integrate existing and up-and-coming technologies and operations, while making XS-1 as reliable, easy-to-use and cost-effective as possible,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager.

Boeing will work with Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems with XCOR Aerospace and Northrop with Virgin Galactic for the XS-1 project.

DARPA aims to fly a reusable first stage at hypersonic speeds into space 10 times in 10 days through the XS-1 program.

“We’re eager to see how their initial designs envision making spaceflight commonplace—with all the potential military, civilian and commercial benefits that capability would provide,” Sponable said.

DARPA wants to limit the cost for each payload weighing between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds to less than $5 million per launch.