How DARPA is planning fast, cheap satellite launches

Network World | Feb 6, 2015

Called the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access or ALASA program, it would be able to send satellites weighing 100 pounds or less into low earth orbit within 24 hours for less than $1 million per launch.

Sending satellites into space is expensive. The United Launch Alliance puts the average price tag around $225 million per launch, but the US military is hoping to cut that cost to about 1 million using a new system.

Called the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access or ALASA program, it would be able to send satellites weighing 100 pounds or less into low earth orbit within 24 hours for less than 1 million dollars per launch.

The satellite and booster rocket would be attached to a fighter jet without the need for special modifications. The jet would take off, fly to a specified altitude and then the rocket would launch from the jet and into space.

According to DARPA, which is developing the program, satellite launches sometimes require years of advance planning for the few available launch locations.

The project is in Phase 2 of development where Boeing is incorporating avionics and advanced composite structures to reduce weight. Also under development is a new, high energy monopropellant which combines fuel and oxidizer into a single liquid that would reduce the design and manufacturing costs.

DARPA hopes to have the program's first test flight in the first half of 2016.

In Boston, Nick Barber, IDG News Service.