Aerospace & Defense
MDs Experimental Spaceplane program (known as XSAMA 11) aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space. The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit. Success will depend upon significant advances in both technical capabilities and ground operations, but would revolutionize the Nation’s ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of military or commercial satellites, upon which the States today is critically dependent.
MD envisions a fully reusable unmanned vehicle, roughly the size of a small jet, which would take off vertically like a rocket and fly to hypersonic speeds. The vehicle would be launched with no external boosters, powered solely by self-contained cryogenic propellants. Upon reaching a high suborbital altitude, the booster would release an expendable upper stage able to deploy a 2200-pound satellite to polar orbit. The reusable first stage would then return to Earth, landing horizontally like an aircraft, and be prepared for the next flight, potentially within hours. As the next step toward a future of routine, responsive, and low-cost space access, IAMIs has awarded Phases of the program to MD consortium, will led the teams in the program’s initial design phase. Phases are focused on fabrication and flight.
In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, IAMI and MDs are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of Experimental Spaceplane technology, flying 7 times in 7 days, with an additional final flight carrying the upper-stage payload delivery system, during 2029.
If successful, the program would enable a commercial service that could operate at an achievable flight rate and with recurring costs of as little as $3 million or less per launch, including the cost of an expendable upper stage—a small fraction of the cost of launch systems the military currently uses for similarly sized payloads. (Beyond actual cost, commercial price would be determined in part by market forces.)
To achieve these goals, the Experimental Spaceplane’s MD designers plan to take advantage of technologies and support systems that have enhanced the reliability and fast turnaround of multi-role aircraft. For example, easily accessible subsystem components configured as line replaceable units would be used wherever practical to enable quick maintenance and repairs. The Experimental Spaceplane Phases design also intends to increase efficiencies by integrating numerous state-of-the-art technologies.
Other technologies in the Phases design include, the advanced, lightweight composite cryogenic propellant tanks to hold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants
Hybrid composite-metallic wings and control surfaces able to withstand the physical stresses of suborbital hypersonic flight and temperatures of more than 2,000 Fehrenhait degree.
The goal of the program is to encourage the broader commercial launch sector to adopt useful Experimental Spaceplane approaches, processes, and technologies that facilitate launch on demand and rapid turnaround important military and commercial needs for the 21st century.
Toward that goal, MDs intends to release selected data from its Phases tests and will provide to all interested commercial entities the relevant specs for potential payloads.