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  • Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA)

    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.

    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.

    ALASA aims to develop and employ radical advances in launch systems, to include the development of a complete launch vehicle requiring no recurring maintenance or support, and no specific integration to prepare for launch.

    ALASA is designed for launch from an aircraft to improve performance, reduce range costs and enable more frequent missions, all of which combine to reduce cost. The ability to relocate and launch quickly from virtually any major runway around the world substantially reduces the time needed to launch a mission. Launching from an aircraft provides launch point offset, which permits essentially any orbit direction to be achieved without concerns for launch direction limits imposed by geography at fixed-base launch facilities.

    The ALASA demonstration system plans to draw on emerging technologies to provide increased specific impulse propellants, stable propellant formulations, hybrid propellant systems, potential “infrastructure free” cryogen production, new motor case materials, new flight controls and mission planning techniques, new nozzle designs, improved thrust vectoring methods and new throttling approaches.

    The program conducted initial trade studies and a market/business case analysis in FY 2011.  In November 2011, the Design Risk Reduction phase began with performers developing both system designs and enabling and enhancing technologies.  A second phase, planned for 2013 to 2015 will include build and flight test demonstration of this new capability.

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