DARPA's Secretive "Phantom Express" Hypersonic Spaceplane Passes Key Test

DARPA selected the Boeing Company in May 2017 to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which intends to develop and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic spacecraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost satellite launches into low Earth Orbit (LEO).

“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,” Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager, said during a press conference in May 2017. “We’re very pleased with Boeing’s progress on the XS-1 through Phase 1 of the program and look forward to continuing our close collaboration in this newly funded progression to Phases 2 and 3—fabrication and flight.”

With XS-1 Phase 1 recently completed, it seems as DARPA has transitioned into XS-1 Phase 2, which includes design, construction, and testing of the technology demonstration vehicle through 2019. It also calls for test firing the vehicle’s engine on the ground ten times in 10 days to demonstrate propulsion readiness for flight tests, which was just completed on July 06 by Aerojet, Boeing, and DARPA.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-22 rocket engine fires during a test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. (Source: NASA / DARPA Photo)

Technicians inspect the AR-22 rocket engine after a hot-fire test. (Source: NASA / DARPA Photo)

Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully test-fired its AR-22 rocket engine an unprecedented ten times in 240 hours at NASA Stennis Space Center last week, demonstrating just how quick the launch vehicle, dubbed the Phantom Express, can be reloaded with fuel and relaunched.

Why focus on relaunching spaceplanes at a moments notice? Well, the Pentagon sees a shooting conflict on the horizon, and it is not on land, but instead in LEO.

To combat such a threat, President Trump recently declared the ‘Space Force’ as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Force. Coincidence? Not at all.

XS-1 Phantom Express  (Source: NASA / DARPA Photo)

“Aerojet Rocketdyne has continued to refine the reusable engine technology we originally developed for the Space Shuttle program,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president.

“With the AR-22 we are taking reusability to the next level and have demonstrated that daily, affordable access to space is within reach,” she said.

“Phantom Express is a disruptive, reusable launch system. Successfully completing this highly demanding rocket engine test series validated a new level of booster capability for this transformational launch vehicle,” continued Drake.

“Turning the AR-22 within 24 hours repeatedly over 10 days demonstrates the capability of this engine and the ability to enable rapid, responsive access to space,” she added.

Thanks to the successful test, the Phantom Express program is on track for XS-1 Phase 3, which includes 12 to 15 flight tests, currently scheduled for 2020/21. After multiple shakedown flights to decrease risk, the XS-1 would aim to fly 10 times over ten consecutive days, at first without payloads. If successful, subsequent flights could send the hypersonic spaceplane to Mach 10 and deliver a payload between 900 pounds and 3,000 pounds into LEO.

DARPA TV: Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Phase 2/3 Concept Video

Last week, DARPA director Steve Walker visited NASA Stennis Space Center to watch one of the engine tests. He praised the team of researchers on their support of national security, highlighting their frequency of tests was impressive.

The ten test firings took place in a test period conducted between June 26 and July 6.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne is very proud to have such an important role in a program that could literally revolutionize space access with a vehicle capable of launching on a daily basis,” Drake said.

“With the Defense Department and commercial sector anticipating a shift toward constellations of smaller satellites that can be replenished quickly, the Phantom Express is the right program at the right time for the nation,” Drake added.

The Phantom Express is designed to launch vertically and land horizontally to allow the quickest return to home. The spaceplane boosts the Pentagon’s mission of space domination, similar to the White House’s recent communique. The reusable hypersonic spaceplane should be capable of delivering 3,000 pounds of payload to LEO at the cost of less than $5 million a flight. Those performance levels represent a “sweet spot” for the Pentagon as well as commercial applications, said Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA’s program manager for the Experimental Spaceplane.

Could the Phantom Express hypersonic spaceplane be one of the first aircraft commissioned for space wars under President Trump’s new Space Force?


navy62802 Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:09 Permalink

The next major advance in space travel will be the introduction of a compact fusion reactor. Anything until then will be nothing more than shuffling chairs around.

caconhma Supafly Fri, 07/13/2018 - 15:44 Permalink

 This is a kiss of death for SpaceX.

The first stage must glide to the Earth to be economical. Furthermore, the 1st stage booster must reach high altitude and hypersonic speed to maximize the payload weight.

SpaceX uses rocket engines for landing. Consequently, the fuel used for landing reduces the weight of the payload.

The Shuttle idea was good but the program was very poorly executed. The components design was terrible specifically protective heat-tiles and the Shuttle & fuel tank mating.

In reply to by Supafly

stant MsCreant Fri, 07/13/2018 - 02:18 Permalink

the old space shuttle had a failure rate per unit of 40 %. have not kept up with musk stuff. the us air force has had better luck with its xb 37. as far as we know. but i would guess most of the missing trillions of pentagon $ went to the cayman islands. maybe cayman will need a bigger bank soon

In reply to by MsCreant

Posa navy62802 Fri, 07/13/2018 - 00:16 Permalink

 LPPFusion in Middlesex, NJ has operated an experimental reactor (FF-1) that produces NO radioactive waste (ie aneutronic) . The FF-1 design is NOT a tokamak that uses magnetic confinement of the plasma to try and achieve fusion. Magnetic confinement has been a failure.

The FF-1 is an entirely different design called Dense Plasma Focus or Focus Fusion. Very different and quite ingenious design.

The final phase of experimental work with FF-1 is underway. The FF-1 has achieved 2 of three criteria to reach fusion. The energy produced is supercheap (1cent a kWhr)... The Hydrogen- Boron fuel will be loaded later this year once the final design and materials are installed this summer and Fall.

Great explanatory videos here.



UC San Diego Collaboration with LPPFusion


In reply to by navy62802

skinwalker Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:12 Permalink

Lowering launch costs massively, say by an order of magnitude or two, is one of those things that has no real application now but will have massive applications once it is done. 

After all, in 1975, what was the use of the internet? 

MuffDiver69 Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:13 Permalink

“Why focus on relaunching spaceplanes at a moments notice? Well, the Pentagon sees a shooting conflict on the horizon, and it is not on land, but instead in LEO.

To combat such a threat, President Trump recently declared the ‘Space Force’ as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Force. Coincidence? Not at all.”


Of course and this has been a not so secret plan. Declaring the Space Force was just a way to ramp up the infrastructure of the research and tests previously done..... thing is this is real, unlike other countries videos...




skinwalker MuffDiver69 Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:27 Permalink

The following is pure speculation on my part. 

It could be that the creation of the space force is a way to bring all the secret technologies they’ve been sitting on for decades into the light. 

I have strong suspicions that alien technology has been recovered by humanity. 

Even without extraterrestrials, all those trillions that walked away from the pentagon had to go somewhere. Corruption and waste can only account for a portion of the total. To my mind, a secret space program is the only thing that could need off the books funding on that scale. 

Perhaps the space force is to start bringing elements of all that into public view. Perhaps it is just another boondoggle. Time will tell. 

In reply to by MuffDiver69

Mad Muppet Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:19 Permalink

Cool! Now we need a much larger and infinitely more deadly bomb to put in it. One that can sterilize an entire ocean, or pollute a whole continent for ten million years. then build thousands of them! /s. What the fuck is wrong with these people?

Omega_Man Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:20 Permalink

appears that the mericans are rehashing old technology.... no new ideas.... boring.... now that von Braun is gone they are toast. 

Now Russia.... they are the innovators...allowing their engineers to build their dreams....

Chief Joesph Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:31 Permalink

This is too funny.  The AR-22 rocket engine shown in the photos, sure looks like an identical copy of the Russian RD-180.  Wonder what the Russians would say about Americans stealing intellectual property rights? 

By the way, Russia far surpasses the U.S. in rocket developments.  Its one of the big reasons why American Astronauts ride Russian rockets to the international space station these days, and worried about hypersonic weapons.  So, the only way the U.S. can keep up in rocket technology is to copy the Russians. 

Isn't America Great? 

mstyle Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:36 Permalink

I find it unbelievable how many people continue to believe the hoax that is NASA. Come on people....seriously.  

NASA is just an arm of the intelligence agencies and the US Government. They receive hundreds of billions of dollars from the taxpayers and in return we get a bunch of CGI photos and animations. You've never even seen an actual real photo of the earth from 'space' and they even admit it to you but no one cares.  

Everyone would rather believe in science fiction instead. It's the biggest lie with plenty of mathematical and scientific evidence to back it up but it's just too big of a lie for most people to ever take into consideration. 



Yen Cross Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:48 Permalink

 The escape velocity for a rocket, plane ect. from Earths atmosphere is 17,500mph.

  That means > MACH 23.

Convert Miles Per Hour to Mach Number

 [Getting rockets into space — Science Learning Hub]

 A vehicle is considered "hypersonic" travels @ mach 4 or above.

 [speed of sound]

  This hypersonic B.S is a joke. What the clowns are trying to say, is that they're working on being able to control a "vehicle" not a missile at several times the speed of sound.

 It's all about trajectories, and hiding shit from your enemies.