News & Opinion | July 17, 2018 5:00 am

The Military Is Building Reusable Space Plane That Can Launch Small Satellites

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Boeing Co. are developing the spacecraft.

spaceplane
Boeing's reusable spaceplane, depicted as a rendering, is under development through a public-private partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. (Boeing Co.)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, along with aerospace giant Boeing Co, is developing a reusable spaceplane that is expected to launch small satellites 10 times in 10 days. This experimental program, spearheaded by the Pentagon research agency, is in response to nations developing technology that can disable or shoot down satellites, as China did to one of its own satellites with a ground-based ballistic missile in 2007.

The reusable spaceplane’s first test flight is set for 2021, which hints at the Defense Department’s expanded interest in reusable rocket technology, writes The Los Angeles Times. In recent weeks, the spaceplane’s rocket engine, known as the AR-22, completed 10 test fires in 240 hours without the need for refurbishments or major repairs.

“SpaceX has had its success,” said Claire Leon, director of Loyola Marymount University’s graduate program in systems engineering and former director of the launch enterprise directorate at the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, according to The Los Angeles Times. “I think this engine test also demonstrates that other companies are doing the technology development and having success that will enable reusability.”