Masten wins DARPA XS-1 contract

Masten Space Systems is the first of likely several companies to receive awards from DARPA for the agency’s Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) reusable launch vehicle technology demonstration program. According to a Federal Business Opportunities posting, DARPA awarded Masten with a contract valued at just under $3 million on June 27 as the first award under a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) DARPA issued for the program last fall.

The announcement does not include details about the award, and Masten has not formally announced the award. However, when DARPA issued the BAA for XS-1 last fall, it said it it would make multiple awards, with “system design tasks” expected to be valued at $3 million each. The top level objectives for system design tasks, as stated in the BAA, include:

  1. Conduct detailed technology trade studies in areas such as propulsion, first and second stage vehicle sizing, lightweight structures and subsystems, advanced TPS, and streamlined clean pad ground operations.
  2. Develop a conceptual design for the XS-1 demonstration system including detailed structural analysis and mass properties.
  3. Identify and/or trade designs of candidate upper stages.
  4. Conduct a mid-phase Conceptual Design and Systems Requirements Review.
  5. Develop a Technology Maturation Plan.
  6. Identify an approach to support airworthiness and safety certification for the flight demonstration with a clear path to an operational capability.
  7. Conduct a Preliminary Design Review tailored for commercial practices.

The goal of XS-1 is to develop a reusable first stage capable of high-speed flight (up to Mach 10) that can, with an expendable upper stage, place payloads of up to 2,270 kilograms (5,000 pounds) into low Earth orbit at a cost of less than $5 million per launch. While the program’s title includes the term “spaceplane,” DARPA officials have indicated they are interested in the operational aspects of aircraft (high flight rates) rather than winged concepts that take off and land on runways. Masten, of course, is best known for vehicles that take off and land vertically under rocket power.

Other XS-1 awards are likely in the near future, although DARPA has not given an indication of how many, or when. The planned budget for this initial phase of the program is $14 million, which would allow as many as three more system design task awards. In addition, DARPA plans to make awards for “critical risk reduction tasks” at up to $1 million each. Phase I is slated to last 13 months, although is already a little behind schedule: the program schedule included in last year’s BAA anticipated contract awards on the second quarter of fiscal year 2014; July 1 marked the beginning of FY14’s fourth quarter.

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