The aerospace giant Boeing has begun to build the first space drone. Called Phantom Express, this robotic aircraft is being developed as part of the XSP program commissioned by the Advanced Defense Development Agency of the United States Department of Defense (DARPA).
According to the statement issued by the same company, the manufacture of a fuel tank for liquid oxygen has been completed and soon the same will happen with the tank for liquid hydrogen. The production of the latter will end in 2019.
The XSP program (Experimental Spaceplane) was launched in 2014 and, in 2017, Boeing received a contract to develop and assemble the first flight model of a space plane. The promising drone will have to simplify and significantly reduce the cost of launching small devices in orbit.
Specifications of the Ghost Express
According to the plans of the military, the Phantom Express will have to carry the second stage with satellites weighing up to 1.4 tons. In addition, this stage will be responsible for the placement of satellites in low Earth orbit, after which it will return to the atmosphere and burn.
Likewise, DARPA has requested that the cost of a launch of the device does not exceed five million dollars. The size of the Phantom Express will be similar to that of the American fighter-bomber F-15 Eagle. The length of this combat aircraft is 19.4 meters (5.6 meters in height and 13 meters in span). The space plane will be used for military launches and commercial purposes.
According to Boeing, a special robot manufactures fuel tanks for the Phantom Express by wrapping carbon fiber strips in the equipment. Then, the resulting carbon frame is filled with a polymeric binder in a vacuum chamber. The use of carbon fiber for the production of fuel tanks has reduced its weight by almost 40% compared to aluminum tanks of the same volume. Other details about the assembly are not specified.
Boeing plans that the drone assembly be ready by 2019 at which time he will be tested. Then, the first flight of the Phantom Express will take place in 2021. Under the terms of the agreement with DARPA, Boeing will have to launch the spacecraft ten times in a row within ten days.
DARPA is often at the forefront of scientific research. He recently presented a strange transforming wheel, launched a program to develop microrobots, and was even accused of wanting to develop a biological weapon.