Pentagon and Boeing Team Up to Take a Step Closer to Militarizing Space
The Pentagon announced in May that Boeing’s design had won a new contract: they would be building the world’s fastest hypersonic jet. Which is cool. But this project is lead by the Pentagon. Not NASA, so it’s a move specifically intended to get a lead on militarizing space.
When we think about space development led by the United States we usually think of NASA– not the Pentagon. Which means space development was always technically supposed to be considered a civilian program. Sure, all development and technology in space brings a political aspect with it. If there’s geopolitical tension on Earth, why wouldn’t there be geopolitical tension in space? Come on we aren’t going to forget the Soviet-U.S. space race now are we? But over all, people expect research-based operations from NASA; and definitely nothing military related.
Does that mean NASA and the Department of Defense or CIA never share information or cooperate? Not at all. But it’s generally always been a hush-hush behind the scenes type of relationship and any documents containing evidence are highly classified. The fact that the Pentagon and Boeing are teaming up to take on this project means they have big plans for the future of space and United States defense. And they aren’t going to even try to beat around the bush with it. But when you have hundreds of military bases all across the globe and are considering a trillion dollar military budget, why bother hiding your plans to militarize space? Who’s going to stop you?
A branch of the Pentagon called Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency aka DARPA is running the show and Boeing will be building the vehicle. DARPA is essentially a section of the Pentagon completely devoted to research. Got a great idea for something weird? That’s what DARPA does. They have a long list of strange projects including self-folding origami, mass produced synthetic blood, and even utilizing insects as weapons. Yep, just like Black Mirror.
Are they building a military base in space? Well no not yet. But the fact that the Pentagon teamed up with Boeing– a company who develops military drones, fighter jets, and rockets– definitely isn’t a step away from militarizing space. In fact it’s probably the first in a long-line of moves will see trickle in over the next few decades as the U.S. seeks to expand their military might into space.
Okay so what exactly is the new project? It’s called XS-1 aka the Phantom Express (creepy right?) and it’s an unmanned plane. But it’s not any old plane: it’s a hypersonic rocket that will get into orbit– between 99 and 1,200 miles– faster and cheaper than ever before. That’s right, each Phantom Express launch will only cost $5 million dollars. Oh that doesn’t seem cheap to you? Well that’s because you probably didn’t realize traditional space launches cost around 10 times that amount. That means more launches more frequently.
“The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand,” Jess Sponable, the XS-1 program manager said in a statement. The main power will come from Boeing’s Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 which uses oxygen and hydrogen propulsion.
So what’s the demand for this? Well, Russia makes the traditional RD-180 engines. And due to new sanctions, U.S. based companies and organizations won’t be able to purchase them after 2022. The final phase of the Phantom Express test flights is already scheduled for 2020.