Aerospace giant Boeing just snagged a $6.6-million contract to design a cheap, reusable space plane for the U.S. military. The idea: to equip America’s space forces with an airplane-like vehicle that can fly to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and quickly boost small satellites into orbit, and then land, refuel, load up another satellite and take off again within 24 hours.
The so-called XS-1 program—short for “eXperimental Spaceplane 1”—isn’t a space weapon. Instead, it’s a sort of defense against space weapons—specifically, the growing fleets of killer spacecraft and satellite-destroying rockets that China and Russia are deploying.
U.S. military planners fully expect that, in any future conflict between major world powers, Earth’s orbit will become a battleground as laser-armed satellites stalk each other across orbital planes and ground- and ship-launched rockets lance into space to smash enemy spacecraft.