The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) will soon issue a request for information on commercial and government payloads it could use in an upcoming launch competition, an agency official said May 23.
The RFI will be “coming out in the next week or two,” said Todd Master, program manager for the DARPA Launch Challenge. “We’re trying to find interesting payloads that we can put on orbit” while maintaining a level playing field for the launch competitors.
The Launch Challenge is designed to promote faster access to space, allowing the Department of Defense to field small satellites more quickly. During the challenge, each participant will launch a payload into low Earth orbit (LEO) on days’ notice and then conduct a second launch to LEO days later from a different site.
DARPA officials believe the ability to rapidly move to another launch site will be important to DoD in the future if an initial site is damaged in a mishap or threatened by an adversary.
“What we’re really trying to do is see that you can deliver capabilities that are agnostic to the launch site,” Master said at an industry day in Los Angeles. “We don’t want to have single points of failure.”
For launch locations, DARPA is considering existing and planned commercial spaceports, federal launch pads and non-traditional launch sites, such as barges and “rockoons,” or high-altitude balloons, Master said.
The launches are slated to occur in the fourth quarter of 2019. To entice participants, DARPA plans to award tens of millions of dollars in prizes to the top performers.
More than 20 launch teams have told DARPA that they might take part in the Launch Challenge (Defense Daily, May 7).
“We’re sort of at the early points of this,” Master told the industry-day audience. “There’s a lot more information that we need to provide to you. There’s a lot more information we need to understand about your capabilities. I really look forward to where we’re going to go in the next six months to a year as we start to determine who’s going to really participate.”