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Northrop Grumman has unveiled its vertical-launch, horizontal-landing reusable booster design for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (Darpa) XS-1 experimental spaceplane program.

Northrop, teamed with subsidiary Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, is working under a 13-month, $3.9 million Phase 1 preliminary-design contract, awarded in July. Contracts also went to Boeing with Blue Origin, and Masten Space Systems with XCOR Aerospace.

Northrop’s unmanned spaceplane is launched vertically from a transporter/erector/launcher, in a "clean pad"-operation with minimum infrastructure and ground crew. The spaceplane is designed for highly autonomous flight operations, the company says.

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