US: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), US, has awarded a contract potentially worth USD 104 million to Boeing to build and demonstrate a low-cost airborne launching system for small satellites in support of the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) programme. ALASA programme’s aim is to develop a significantly cheaper alternative for the routine launching of small satellites, and is aimed at reducing the cost to a third of a conventional satellite launch. A single small satellite payload can cost upwards of USD 30,000 per pound to launch into space, and often takes up payload space in multi-payload launchers. The programme centers on the use of aircraft-based launches to improve performance, reduce range costs and allow more frequent missions. By using aircraft, satellite launches would no longer require wait times for launch windows, and would also be resilient to hazards associated with fixed launch sites.
ALASA plans to develop improved thrust vectoring methods, new throttling approaches, new flight controls and mission planning techniques, new motor case materials, a potentially infrastructure-free cryogen production method, hybrid propellant systems, stable propellant formulations, and increased specific impulse propellants. The programme seeks to launch 100-pound satellites for less than USD 1 million total, under the assumption of a total of 36 launches. Boeing will eventually have to demonstrate 12 independent launches of 100 pound payloads into low-Earth-orbit.
Source: Defense systems