DARPA Planning Responsive Launch Competition

DARPA Launch Challenge looks to harness growing commercial capabilities to address threats to national security space assets. (DARPA, 2018)

DARPA Launch Challenge looks to harness growing commercial capabilities to address threats to national security space assets. (DARPA, 2018)

March 26, 2018 | Source: Space News, spacenews.com, 12 February 2018, Jeff Foust

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has a checkered history of supporting development of new launch vehicles, is planning to start a competition offering prizes for responsive launch systems.

The DARPA Launch Challenge won’t be formally announced until April, but Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said it is part of an effort to harness growing commercial capabilities to address threats to national security space assets.

“How do we build less expensive systems on rapid timescales? How do we re-inject a sense of innovation into national security space and, frankly, all of space?” he said in a speech at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference here Feb. 8. “We want to be able to enable proliferation and disaggregation of our systems.”

One approach for doing so is a prize competition DARPA is developing for responsive launch, intended to foster the development of vehicles that can launch on short notice and from a variety of locations.

“I want to do something like ‘Orbitz for orbits,’” he said, referring to the online travel service. His vision is an online booking service where he could select an upcoming launch going to the desired orbit and with the desired capacity. “I can’t do that today. I have no way to accomplish that. But yet, I see emerging in the small launch industry the ability to do just that.”

Kennedy said details about the competition, including the specific rules and the prize purse, are still being developed. An illustration he showed at the conference, and which is available on the DARPA website, shows a competition where a company launches one mission after being called up for it “days to weeks” in advance, then repeating that launch again on short notice but from another site and to another orbit.


For additional information, see DARPA's Launch Challenge website.

For additional information on the DARPA Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, see DARPA Picks Design for Next-Generation Spaceplane.

For more information on the DARPA Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, see Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA).