“For 16 years, Aviation Week & Space Technology has investigated myriad sightings of a two-stage-to-orbit system that could place a small military spaceplane in orbit. Considerable evidence supports the existence of such a highly classified system, and top Pentagon officials have hinted that it’s ‘out there,’ “but iron-clad confirmation that meets AW&ST standards has remained elusive. Now facing the possibility that this innovative ‘Blackstar’ system may have been shelved, we elected to share what we’ve learned about it with our readers, rather than let an intriguing technological breakthrough vanish into ‘black world’ history, known to only a few insiders. U.S. intelligence agencies may have quietly mothballed a highly classified two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane system designed in the 1980s for reconnaissance, satellite-insertion and, possibly, weapons delivery. It could be a victim of shrinking federal budgets strained by war costs, or it may not have met performance or operational goals.
“This two-vehicle ‘Blackstar’ carrier/orbiter system may have been declared operational during the 1990s.
“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.”