More secret Spaceplanes

Back in 2006 Aviation Week and Space Technology broke the Blackstar story. Blackstar was supposed to be a secret two stage military spaceplane developed in the 1990’s but canceled in 2005 . At the time the article seemed far fetched to me, certainly there were many people attacking the project on technical grounds. However DoD seems to be up to something now. Hot on the heels of the recent X-37B article we read this:

GOLDEN, Colorado — Lockheed Martin carried out a second test flight of a prototype reusable launch system on Aug. 12 at the proposed site of New Mexico’s Spaceport America outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico. While the 200-pound (91 kg) vehicle reached its planned altitude — roughly 1,500 feet (457 meters) — the craft went out of control and was seriously damaged, beyond reusability. ……. The self-propelled vehicle was flown last December from the same launch area — a test effort that is being done in partnership with UP Aerospace of Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Simpson said the name of the project, as well as the craft’s propulsion system remains under wraps at this time. The vehicle flown in December and now this month is 8 feet (2.4 meters) long with a wingspan of about 6 feet (1.8 meters), he noted………

This project is so secret we don’t even know its name. But there are other spaceplane projects which we do know their name, such as the Blackswift , Darpa’s hypersonic test plane.

Northrop Grumman is understood not to have bid, making it likely a contract will be awarded to Lockheed by September. The unmanned, reusable turbojet/scramjet-powered Blackswift is planned to fly in 2012. Under DARPA’s Falcon program, Lockheed has completed conceptual design of a demonstrator, the HTV-3X, that forms the basis for the Blackswift. The goal of the demonstration is to take-off conventionally, accelerate to beyond Mach 6, maneuver and return to a runway landing. Skunk Works also is performing subscale tests of the combined-cycle propulsion system, which comprises a high-Mach turbojet and dual-mode ram/scramjet. The turbine is used for take-off and landing, and to accelerate the vehicle to Mach 4, where the ramjet takes over. Lockheed has ground-tested inlets and nozzles that are shared by the two engines, says Stephen Walker, deputy director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. The challenge is in combining both flowpaths over the Mach range during which both the turbine and ramjet are operating, he says….

Of course the United States already has a spaceplane, the Space Shuttle, but that will be retired in 2010 leaving the US without an manned orbital capability until the Orion replacement comes along. American astronauts will need to buy rides on the soyuz to go to the ISS. That can have political problems. Another issue is that the Shuttle can not only take big things into space but bring them down. The Orion capsules would not have this capability. A spaceplane, even an unmanned one, can. So there a secret shuttle in development? Well if its a secret they sure not going to tell me about it. However there’s at least three serious projects in development we know about. A classifed black spaceplane project would be unsurprising. Or perhaps I have been reading too many Dale Brown novels recently.


1 Response to “More secret Spaceplanes”

  1. 1 Anonymous April 24, 2010 at 2:14 am

    you knew all along didnt you !!!!!!

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