An artist's concept of the XS-1. (Picture: Northrop Grumman.)
An artist's concept of the XS-1. (Picture: Northrop Grumman.)

The XS-1 programme aims to develop a fully-reusable unmanned vehicle that would provide aircraft-like access to space and deploy small satellites to orbit using expendable upper stages. The XS-1 would also serve as a test-bed for a new generation of hypersonic aircraft.

Northrop Grumman is defining its concept for XS-1 under a 13-month, Phase 1 contract valued at $3.9 million.

The company has teamed with Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, which will lead fabrication and assembly, and Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded commercial spaceline, which will head commercial spaceplane operations and transition.

Virgin Galactic's spacecraft and carrier vehicles are constructed from carbon fibre composite materials using technology developed by Scaled Composites.