The vehicle -- with operation and reliability similar to traditional aircraft – would lower the cost of launching military satellites, which often costs hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We want to build off of proven technologies to create a reliable, cost-effective space delivery system with one-day turnaround," said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager heading the development project, which is called XS-1. "How it's configured, how it gets up and how it gets back are pretty much all on the table -- we're looking for the most creative yet practical solutions possible."
The XS-1, or Experimental Spaceplane program, aims for an unmanned vehicle that would allow for daily operations and flights to launch small satellites, without need for specialized infrastructure and with the use of a small number of ground crew, DARPA said.
A reusable first stage would fly to hypersonic speeds at a sub-orbital altitude. One or more expendable upper stages would then separate and deploy a satellite into low Earth orbit.
DARPA has issued a special notice on the program, asking for ideas and proposals for the XS-1 program.
"XS-1 aims to help break the cycle of launches happening farther and farther apart and costing more and more," Sponable said. "It would also help further our progress toward practical hypersonic aircraft technologies and increase opportunities to test new satellite technologies as well."