Ten years after the US Air Force mandated the production of the next generation of GPS satellites, the first of these space devices will eventually be put into orbit by the end of this year, as the Los Angeles Times revealed. Because many other countries are currently working on technologies to either disable or destroy satellites, such as China which blew up their satellite using a ballistic missile fired from the ground in 2007, the US DARPA has embarked on a search for other ways to deploy smaller aircraft into space rapidly and inexpensively. They, along with Boeing, develop a new US Army space plane.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), along with the aerospace giant Boeing Co., is working on a recyclable space plane that is supposed to be able to fly small satellites for about ten times in only ten days which means one satellite a day.
In recent weeks, the rocket engine on this space plane, known as the AR-22, concluded ten tests in 240 hours without the need for significant restorations or overhauls, according to Jeff Haynes, who runs the Aerojet Rocketdyne program.
The test-drives were held between June 26th and July 6th at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
DARPA and Boeing work on developing a space plane for deploying satellites rapidly and inexpensively
The Air Force also developed the X-37B experimental space plane, which is a smaller version of the space orbiter. Details of their missions are scarce, although this uncrewed robotic space plane spent 718 days in orbit before returning to Earth during its last mission.
The space plane will be launched vertically like a regular rocket, then deploy an impeller in the second stage that will propel the satellite into orbit and then return to Earth and land horizontally like an airplane on a runway.
To achieve this, Boeing relied on its Aircraft Commercial Division. The materials used in the space plane’s fuel tanks, wings, and other areas were based on investments made during the development of the company’s jetliner 787, which has an outer structure made from same compounds.
“The design of the space plane was derived from commercial aircraft to make it easier to maintain and operate the vehicle,” said Steve Johnston, launch director of Boeing Phantom Works.
The engine is composed of qualified flight hardware and has been used previously in previous engines and is derived from those that have powered the NASA space shuttle.