Satellite Launch From Aircraft

Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) is a DARPA program designed to launch small satellites into low earth orbit with rockets fired from aircraft at high altitude. This has the ability to reduce costs and planning overhead.

ALASA Concept Video

[youtube.com]

DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program (ALASA) seeks to propel 100-pound satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) within 24 hours of call-up, all for less than $1 million per launch. The current ALASA design envisions launching a low-cost, expendable launch vehicle from conventional aircraft. 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.

AIRBORNE LAUNCH ASSIST SPACE ACCESS (ALASA) – [darpa.mil]

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. Launch costs are driven in part today by fixed site infrastructure, integration, checkout and flight rules. Fixed launch sites can be rendered idle by something as innocuous as rain, and they also limit the direction and timing of orbits satellites can achieve.

The goal of ALASA is to develop a significantly less expensive approach for routinely launching small satellites, with a goal of at least threefold reduction in costs compared to current military and US commercial launch costs. Currently, small satellite payloads cost more than $30,000 per pound to launch, and must share a launcher with other satellites. ALASA seeks to launch satellites on the order of 100 pounds for less than $1M total, including range support costs, to orbits that are selected specifically for each 100 pound payload.

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