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DARPA considers conventional aircraft to launch satellites

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency responsible for creating new technologies for the U.S. military, is developing a low-cost alternative for launching small satellites.

DARPA considers conventional aircraft to launch satellites

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency responsible for creating new technologies for the U.S. military, is developing a low-cost alternative for launching small satellites.

DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program would use conventional aircraft to launch a dispatch vehicle to deliver satellites into orbit.

DARPA provided an update on the program in early February at the 18th Annual Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference.

“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,” said Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “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.”

The ALASA program envisions a low-cost, expendable launch vehicle that would be carried to a high altitude by a conventional aircraft to release its payload.

“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, ALASA program manager. “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.”

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