Today, space launch is a process that begins years in advance, and it relies on a limited number of launch ranges that have complex, expensive, and one-of-a-kind, fixed infrastructure. The DARPA Launch Challenge is stressing the time, technology, systems, and processes that currently constrain access to space. The Challenge aims to minimize launch infrastructure, improve responsiveness, and take advantage of advances in commercial launch cadence to demonstrate flexible launch capabilities in days rather than years, for our nation’s defense.
For more than 60 years, DARPA has held to a singular and enduring mission: to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security. Since 2004, DARPA has consistently used prized-based Challenges to develop innovative solutions to some of the most difficult national security problems. High-profile competitions, challenges, and prize incentives have been effective at motivating innovators from around the world to expand the boundaries of human performance and technology. The DARPA Launch Challenge is the most recent Challenge in a series of efforts to bring transformative change in space that has been elusive in traditional R&D efforts.
DARPA is coordinating closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is responsible for granting licenses for commercial space launches. FAA has been involved throughout the Challenge and will be on-site throughout the launch demonstrations. FAA licenses are required for all launch activity conducted under this effort.
Of the 50+ teams that submitted applications to participate in the challenge, eighteen teams prequalified to participate in the challenge, passing the first hurdle in the milestone process by proposing a viable solution for flexible and responsive launch. To successfully pass the qualification phase, potential teams were required to submit discrete applications to DARPA and the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), and have them accepted by each organization.
Three teams successfully completed all three steps, including receiving acceptance of an FAA license, qualifying to participate in the Launch Challenge. Due to the difficulty of the challenge, only one team remains in the competition: Astra.
The Team: Astra was incorporated in October 2016 and is located in Alameda, California, just east of San Francisco. Astra’s leadership team includes industry and government space veterans Chris Kemp (CEO), Dr. Adam London (CTO), and Chris Thompson (VP, Engineering). Astra currently employees 160 engineers, scientists, technicians, and staff. Focusing on low-cost fabrication techniques and a software-driven approach to manufacturing, the company’s objective is to achieve daily space deliveries of small satellites without rideshare brokering and with minimal launch infrastructure.
Get daily updates on the Challenge at www.darpalaunchchallenge.org
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