DARPA attempts to launch satellites with fighter jets

DARPA has been developing new concepts and architectures to get small satellites into orbit more economically on short notice through its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program.

Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technological Office, discussed multiple accomplishments of the program, including successful completion of Phase 1 design, selection of the Boeing Company as prime contractor for Phase 2 of the program, which includes conducting 12 orbital test launches of an integrated prototype system, at the 18th Annual Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C.

“We’ve made good progress so far toward ALASA’s ambitious goal of propelling 100-pound satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) within 24 hours of call-up, all for less than $1 million per launch,” Tousley said. “We’re moving ahead with rigorous testing of new technologies that we hope one day could enable revolutionary satellite launch systems that provide more affordable, routine and reliable access to space.”

Typically because of the nation’s limited number of launch sites, launches of satellites for the Department of Defense (DoD) or other government agencies require scheduling to be made years in advance. According to DARPA, the current ALASA design foresees launching a low-cost, expendable launch vehicle from conventional aircraft. The plane, providing the role as a reusable first stage, would fly to a high altitude and release the launch vehicle, which would carry the payload to the desired location.

“ALASA seeks to overcome the limitations of current launch systems by streamlining design and manufacturing and leveraging the flexibility and re-usability of an air-launched system,” said Mitchell Burnside Clapp, DARPA program manager for ALASA. “We envision an alternative to ride-sharing for satellites that enables satellite owners to launch payloads from any location into orbits of their choosing, on schedules of their choosing, on a launch vehicle designed specifically for small payloads.”

Twelve orbital launches to test the integrated ALASA prototype system are included in the program plan if testing of the new monopropellant is successful. As of now, DARPA plans to conduct the first ALASA flight demonstration test in late 2015 and the first orbital launch test in the first half of 2016.

The program would conduct up to 11 demonstration launches through summer 2016, depending on test results.

By Staff Writer  © Popular Military




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