Northrop Grumman (finally) reveals its XS-1 design

Northrop XS-1

An illustration of Northrop Grumman’s XS-1 concept. (credit: Northrop Grumman)

More than a month after DARPA formally announced the winners of Phase 1 contracts for its Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) program, the last of the three companies that received those contracts unveiled the design of the concept.

In a press release Tuesday, Northrop Grumman showed off an illustration of its XS-1 design. The vehicle looks somewhat similar to Boeing’s XS-1 design, which the company released at the time the contract awards were announced last month. The release offers few other technical details, beyond that it will be launched vertically (based on statements in the release about plans for a “clean pad launch using a transporter erector launcher”) with a runway landing.

Northrop Grumman’s team includes its wholly-owned subsidiary, Scaled Composites, and Virgin Galactic, which has been working with Scaled on the development of SpaceShipTwo. Scaled will lead the fabrication and assembly of XS-1, while Virgin would be responsible for “commercial spaceplane operations and transition,” according to the release.

Besides Northrop Grumman and Boeing, Masten Space Systems also received a Phase 1 XS-1 award last month. All three contracts run for 13 months and cover early design work on each company’s concepts. The goal of the XS-1 program is to develop a vehicle that can serve as a reusable first stage for a medium-class launch system, as well as a hypersonic research testbed. The XS-1 vehicle would be designed to fly ten times in ten days, with at least one flight traveling at speeds up to Mach 10.

It turns out that Tuesday’s release was not the first time that this illustration of Northrop Grumman’s XS-1 design had been shown publicly. At the end of a presentation at the NewSpace 2014 conference July 26 offering an overview of cheap access to space efforts, Jeff Lane of Northrop Grumman showed this illustration as a closing slide, without discussing what it represented (the company’s XS-1 concept). “So the need is there. I think the technology is ready. So let’s go do it,” he said as the illustration appeared on the screen, referring to the concept of cheap access to space in general. You can see that in the video of the conference session below, starting at the 15:00 mark:

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