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Northrop Grumman Corporation with Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic is developing a preliminary design for DARPA's experimental spaceplane XS-1, shown here in an artist's concept. Northrop Grumman Image.

As part of the push to employ reusable launch vehicles to reduce the high cost of putting satellites into orbit, Northrop Grumman is teaming with two aerospace innovators to design and flight test a booster that can recover on a runway like an airplane after each launch mission. Northrop is working with Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, which combined to produce an airplane that made a non-stop, globe-circling flight, and a mothership for a reusable space ship, on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane program. A Northrop release said its XS-1 concept pairs the reusable booster with an expendable upper stage rocket to lift a 3,000-pound spacecraft into low earth orbit. The team is working on a 13-month, $3.9 million DARPA contract. A key program goal is to be able to fly 10 space launch missions in 10 days using minimal ground crew and infrastructure. Reusable launch vehicles could reduce the cost of orbiting satellites by a factor of 10 and allow quicker replacement of crucial spacecraft. The reusable launcher also could support testing of a new generation of hypersonic aircraft, states the release.