DARPA Completes Rapid Engine Firing of Experimental Spaceplane

AR-22 engine at NASA Stennis Space Center 1 photo
Photo: DARPA
Low under the radar, as usual, DARPA is working on its own space machine with which to aid the advancements of space exploration. Called Experimental Spaceplane, or XSP, DARPA’s version of a spacecraft reached an important milestone this week.
At the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, DARPA has been testing for the past few weeks the AR-22 engine that is to power the spaceplane. This engine is a variant of the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 used on the American space shuttle.

The tests conducted since June were meant to demonstrate that rapid turnaround and on-demand launch for XSP are possible. In what was a first for large hydrogen-fueled liquid rocket engines, the AR-22 was fired with success ten times in just under 240 hours.

Each of the burns lasted for 100 seconds and proved that, in theory, the machine will be a spacecraft capable of aircraft-like operation.

“When it comes to space access, DARPA’s focus is on getting there quickly and inexpensively, to the specific orbit we want, at a time of our choosing,” said in a statement Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

“In the future, we foresee large constellations of small satellites, with an ongoing need for replenishment to replace old systems and demonstrate new, innovative capabilities. If successful, XSP will be a key part of that strategy.”

DARPA is working on the XSP together with Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne. It plans to create a machine capable of deploying at least 3,000 pounds of cargo to low Earth orbit. The design of the engine currently being tested is meant to accommodate different types of upper stage, and the craft itself should be capable of partial autonomous flight.

The development program of the Spaceplane, currently in the second of its three planned stages, calls for the first full flight test to be conducted in early 2021.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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