Monthly Archives: March 2006

Blackstar Spaceplane, we hardly knew ye

spaceplane.jpgAviation Week reports what they know about Blackstar, a US military spaceplane intended to guarantee American access to space in the wake of the Challenger disaster.

A large “mothership,” closely resembling the U.S. Air Force’s historic XB-70 supersonic bomber, carries the orbital component conformally under its fuselage, accelerating to supersonic speeds at high altitude before dropping the spaceplane. The orbiter’s engines fire and boost the vehicle into space. If mission requirements dictate, the spaceplane can either reach low Earth orbit or remain suborbital.

The Blackstar was capable of surprise surveillance flyovers, microsatellite launches, and even ground strikes using hypervelocity weapons. These weapons are one of the more fascinating aspects of the story. The so-called “rods from god” consist of a simple tungsten shaft 20 feet long and one foot in diameter, and would hit the ground at 12,000 feet per second. Given the Pentagon’s current inclination to militarize space, I don’t think they’d be mothballing Blackstar unless they’ve got a pretty impressive replacement operational. Black triangles, anyone?