Life On Earth
DARPA's Airborne Satellite Launchers
The days of satellites launching from spaceports could very well be numbered. A new idea conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is to use airplanes to launch satellites into the Earth's orbit. This technology has been dubbed Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) by DARPA.
The reasoning behind this is that it will make satellite launches much quicker and more cost effective. Launching from a moving aircraft 25 000 feet in the air means the satellite doesn't have to go through the thicker layers of the atmosphere and already has velocity before even being launched. ALASA is expected to reduce the cost per pound of payload launched into space from $30 000 to $10 000. DARPA's involvement means there is a military application to this kind of technology. Anti-satellite weapons are becoming a thorn in the US Military's side, so this will help the Department of Defense replace any damaged satellites quickly and efficiently.
Even though this process is much more cost effective, it still costs quite a bit. The whole program has a budget of $165 million. DARPA wants to see if a dozen launches of 100-pound objects into Earth's low orbit will be successful with a price tag of $1 million per launch. If they are, a lot of US Air Force vehicles will soon double as airborne satellite launch platforms.
Written by: Denis Ivanov
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