20 Aug Two innovations every space enthusiast needs to know
When it comes to space exploration, one of the greatest pain points is the sheer cost of transporting cargo and astronauts into space, which by one estimate is $50 million a pop. Getting into space is the easy part, it’s the cost that holds people back. No wonder Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been working overtime on developing reusable launch vehicles — by reusing rockets, SpaceX can effectively spread out the cost of each launch over several missions.
With that in mind, here are two innovations still in the formative stages that one day could make space exploration easier, cheaper and quite possibly, more accessible to the average person.
The XS-1 space plane
The first innovation is a reusable space plane — the XS-1 — that can be flown to space and back multiple times. According to DARPA, the goal of the XS-1 program is to create a plane that can fly to space at least 10 times in 10 days, at a cost of just $5 million each. DARPA has framed the development of the XS-1 space plane as an innovation challenge, providing just a few basic requirements of what such a space plane must be able to do. In addition to being able to make 10 trips in 10 days, the space plane must have the ability to fly at Mach 10 and have the same size and weight as a corporate jet.
On so many levels, the idea of a space plane makes sense — it has the appeal of being a reusable launch vehicle, plus it builds on the technology platform that already exists with NASA’s space shuttle program and the Air Force’s super-secretive X-37B, an unmanned space plane that can stay in space for months at a time. If the XS-1 program ever gets off the ground, it would become the technological heir apparent to the space shuttle program, which finally came to a close in July 2011.