The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is calling on aerospace experts from across the country to develop new, faster technologies to launch rockets and payloads into space. It currently takes private aerospace companies years to conduct a launch. DARPA’s new Launch Challenge, however, seeks to reduce this time to just days.
When speaking about the project, DARPA’s Todd Master explained that current launch technologies were developed during the early days of space exploration. Therefore, there wasn’t a need for timely launches. In today’s world, though, the U.S. government and military needs timely launches to deliver satellites and other payloads into orbit within days, not years. To achieve this goal, DARPA is calling on the country’s top aerospace experts to develop new launch technologies as part of the Launch Challenge.
“We want to demonstrate the ability to launch payloads to orbit on extremely short notice, with no prior knowledge of the payload, destination orbit, or launch site. The launch environment of tomorrow will more closely resemble that of airline operations — with frequent launches from a myriad of locations worldwide,” explained Todd Master, DARPA’s Launch Challenge team leader.
The general idea is to cut down on the time it takes to launch rockets. Rather than waiting years for a private company to launch a payload on behalf of the government, DARPA wants companies to perform these launches within days and with little or no notice. This certainly sounds like an optimistic view, but it’s plausible given the recent advancements in space and rocket technology. And if DARPA is able to develop new, faster launch technologies, it could provide the U.S. government and military with a huge advantage. The only downside is that it may take several years before the new technology is ever adopted.
So, what’s at stake for DARPA’s Launch Challenge? According to a press release issued by the defense company, all qualifying teams will compete for prizes beginning in late 2019, with the grand prize being $10 million. With such a massive grand prize up for grabs, the Launch Challenge is guaranteed to attract some entrepreneurial rocket and aerospace experts.
DARPA says that it will work directly with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) throughout the Launch Challenge to ensure that all participants receive the necessary approval to launch their rockets.
DARPA will host a competitors’ day in Los Angeles on May 23, 2018, during which participants can learn more about the Launch Challenge.