July 27, 2006: Small Launch Vehicle Program Breaks Record

  • Published
  • 418th Flight Test Squadron

A team composed of the 412th Test Wing, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and AirLaunch Limited Liability Company broke records for the largest single object to be dropped from a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft, a full-scale simulated AirLaunch QuickReach rocket weighing 72,000 pounds was dropped as part of the joint DARPA/Air Force Falcon Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) Program. The team broke their own record set just over a month ago when a simulated QuickReach rocket that weighed 65,000 pounds was dropped out of a C-17 on June 14.

As a step toward implementing the hypersonic cruise vehicle concept, DARPA and the Air Force propose developing, by 2010, a global strike capability that would launch common aerospace vehicles on a low-cost, mission-responsive small launch vehicle. DARPA and the Air Force were developing the small launch vehicle under a separate contract.

DARPA and the U.S. Air Force have selected teams for the first phase of the Force Application and Launch from the Continental U.S., also known as the FALCON program. Nine contractors were selected for negotiations for Task 1 (Small Launch Vehicle) and three contractors were selected for negotiations for Task 2 (Hypersonic Weapon Systems). Subject to successful negotiations, each contractor will conduct a six-month system definition study within its respective task. At the conclusion of Phase I, DARPA and the Air Force would decide whether to proceed with Phase II, which would be a 36-month design and development effort.

The goal of the joint DARPA/Air Force FALCON program developed and validated in-flight, technologies that enabled both a near-term and far-term capability to execute time-critical, prompt global reach missions while at the same time demonstrating affordable and responsive space lift. The fundamental underpinning of the technical approach to be taken in the FALCON program is the recognition that a common set of technologies can be matured in an evolutionary manner that will provide a near-term operational capability for responsive, affordable small sattellite spacelift and prompt global strike from the continental U.S. 

In FALCON Phase I Task 1, contractors will develop conceptual designs, performance predictions, cost objectives, and development and demonstration plans for the Small Launch Vehicle (SLV). The Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) will provide the nation with a new, small payload access to space capability while enabling affordable implementation of the Falcon hypersonic technology flight-test program. The SLV will be capable of boosting hypersonic technology vehicles to conditions required for validating the performance of hypersonic technologies in flight. The primary objective is to develop a capability to place a small satellite weighing approximately 1,000 pounds into a reference orbit defined as circular, 100 nautical mile altitude, due east, and launched from a northern latitude for a total launch cost of less than $5 million. These objectives are a significant spiral in the development of an Operationally Responsive Spacelift capability currently being pursued by the Air Force.  FALCON Phase I, Task 1 contractors will receive between $350,000 and $540,000 each for their Phase I efforts.

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