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Spaceplane program delays key meeting

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A U.S. defense agency has postponed a two-day session aimed at jumpstarting work on a “spaceplane” that could fly almost as routinely as an aircraft.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had hoped to meet with industry representatives Oct. 7 and 8 to discuss their proposals for the Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1). But DARPA has delayed the meeting, citing the ongoing federal budget stalemate.

DARPA said it “remains committed to the program” and will announce a new schedule “when available.”

The program seeks to develop a reusable unmanned vehicle that could deploy small satellites more quickly and at a less cost than today’s space vehicles, which take months to prepare for launch and cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. The XS-1 would have a small ground crew and “no expensive specialized infrastructure,” allowing it to fly daily from a wide range of locations. Among the program’s specific goals are flying 10 times in 10 days, and reducing the “cost of access to space” for small payloads to less than $5 million.

DARPA envisions that a hypersonic, reusable first stage would fly to a suborbital altitude, where one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into low-Earth orbit. The first stage would then land on Earth to be prepared for its next flight.

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