The space shuttles formerly used by NASA offer a complicated history. Unfortunately, the tragedies of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles that took the lives of 14 brave astronauts understandably overshadow the 133 successful missions that launched hundreds of satellites and visits to the International Space Station. While the space shuttle program officially ended in 2011, its legacy could be living on in an interesting fashion.
According to a report on Wired.com, Boeing and NASA entered into an agreement last fall wherein the agency will sell engines from the leftover shuttles to Boeing. In addition to a yet-to-disclosed application, these engines will be used for the Space Launch System currently being developed for lunar missions, and, potentially, for reaching Mars.
These engines will also be made available to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, for the development of their autonomous, reusable Phantom Express. The Phantom will look to provide a type of shuttle service in deploying satellites or delivering supplies to the ISS. DARPA hopes the Phantom Express, which is also being produced by Boeing, will provide trip turnaround times of as short as one day and carry a per-launch price of about $5 million – making it significantly cheaper than current SpaceX commercial launches.
The deal also directs NASA to clean, inspect, test, and deliver four engines currently in storage at its White Sands, New Mexico Test Facility for Boeing’s use in that previously mentioned DOD program. These engines are from the shuttle’s smaller orbital maneuvering systems that were originally developed to control speed and navigation while in orbit. It’s speculated that these smaller engines could be used for the precise positioning of large military satellites.