Low-Cost, Expendable Satellite Launch System from Conventional Aircraft
Satellites today are launched via booster rocket from a limited number of ground facilities, which can involve a month or longer of preparation for a small payload and significant cost for each mission. DARPA's Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program (ALASA) seeks to propel 100-pound satellites into low Earth orbit within 24 hours of call-up, for less than $1 million per launch. The current ALASA design envisions launching a low-cost, expendable launch vehicle from conventional aircraft that requires no aircraft modification and would use municipal airports. Serving as a reusable first stage, the plane would fly to high altitude and release the launch vehicle, which would carry the payload to the desired location. The program is moving ahead with rigorous testing of new technologies that one day could enable revolutionary satellite launch systems that provide more affordable, routine, and reliable access to space.