Boeing has been given a $30.6 million contract by the U.S. military to develop an airborne satellite launch system.
The Airborne Launch Assist Space Access, or ALASA, system was designed by Phantom Works Advanced Space Exploration for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Under the 11-month contract from DARPA, Boeing will build as many as a dozen 24-foot vehicles that would be dropped by an F-15 at an altitude of about 40,000 feet, fire their engines and then deploy micro-satellites into space.
The micro-satellites would have a total weight of as much as 100 pounds.
Boeing and DARPA aim to use the demonstrators to test the ability to cut the cost of routinely launching micro-satellites into orbit by 66 percent.
“ALASA aims to develop and employ radical advances in launch systems, leading to more affordable and responsive space access compared to current military and U.S. commercial launch operations,” DARPA said.
The agency said rockets used in space launches have a number of stages, each with its own engine and fuel tanks. With ALASA, the first and second stages are powered by the same engine, which reduces weight and complexity.”