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FALCON Small Launch Vehicle

As a step toward implementing the hypersonic cruise vehicle concept, DARPA and the Air Force propose developing, by 2010, a global strike capability that would launch common aero vehicles on a low-cost, mission-responsive small launch vehicle. DARPA and the Air Force are developing the small launch vehicle under a separate contract.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force have selected teams for the first phase of the Force Application and Launch from the Continental U.S. (FALCON) program. Nine contractors were selected for negotiations for Task 1 (Small Launch Vehicle) and three contractors were selected for negotiations for Task 2 (Hypersonic Weapon Systems). Subject to successful negotiations, each contractor will conduct a six-month system definition study within its respective task. At the conclusion of Phase I, DARPA and the Air Force will decide whether to proceed with Phase II, which would be a 36-month design and development effort.

The goal of the joint DARPA/Air Force FALCON program is to develop and validate, in-flight, technologies that will enable both a near-term and far-term capability to execute time-critical, prompt global reach missions while at the same time, demonstrating affordable and responsive space lift. The fundamental underpinning of the technical approach to be taken in the FALCON program is the recognition that a common set of technologies can be matured in an evolutionary manner that will provide a near-term (circa 2010) operational capability for responsive, affordable smallsat spacelift and prompt global strike from the continental U.S. (or equivalent reach from alternative U.S. basing) while also enabling future development of a reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle for the far-term (circa 2025).

In FALCON Phase I Task 1, contractors will develop conceptual designs, performance predictions, cost objectives, and development and demonstration plans for the Small Launch Vehicle (SLV). The Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) will provide the nation with a new, small payload access to space capability while enabling affordable implementation of the Falcon hypersonic technology flight-test program. The SLV will be capable of boosting hypersonic technology vehicles to conditions required for validating the performance of hypersonic technologies in flight. The primary objective is to develop a capability to place a small satellite weighing approximately 1,000 pounds into a reference orbit defined as circular, 100 nautical mile altitude, due east, and launched from 28.5o north latitude for a total launch cost of less than $5 million (excluding payload and payload integration costs). These objectives are a significant spiral in the development of an Operationally Responsive Spacelift capability currently being pursued by the Air Force.

FALCON Phase I, Task 1 contractors will receive between $350,000 and $540,000 each for their Phase I effort. Task 1 contractors are listed below.

  • AirLaunch LLC, Reno, Nevada
  • Andrews Space Inc., Seattle, Wash.
  • Exquadrum Inc., Victorville, Calif.
  • KT Engineering, Huntsville, Ala.
  • Lockheed Martin Corp., Space Systems Co., Michoud Operations, New Orleans, La.
  • Microcosm Inc., El Segundo, Calif.
  • Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va.
  • Schafer Corp., Chelmsford, Mass.
  • Space Exploration Technologies, El Segundo, Calif.

On 15 September 2004 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force awarded funding to four teams for the second phase of the Falcon Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) program. The goal of the Falcon SLV program is to develop and demonstrate an affordable and responsive space lift capability. Each team was awarded an other transaction for prototypes agreement.

The teams and agreement values are:

  • Airlaunch LLC*, Reno, Nev., was awarded a $4,149,617 increment of a $11,372,342 other transaction for prototypes agreement. Work will be performed in Chatsworth, Calif. (30%), Reno, Nev. (25%), Newport Beach, Calif. (20%), Gurley, Ala. (10%), Purcellville, Va. (10%), and Orlando, Fla. (5%).
  • Lockheed Martin Corp., Space Systems Co., Michoud Operations, New Orleans, La., was awarded a $3,960,000 increment of a $11,691,215 other transaction. Work will be performed in New Orleans, La. (52%), Valencia, Calif. (8%), Chatsworth, Calif. (9%), Arvada, Colo. (9%), Littleton, Colo. (6%), Edwards AFB, Calif. (7%), Sacramento, Calif. (5%), Beltsville, Md. (3%), and Norfolk, Va. (1%),
  • Microcosm Inc., El Segundo, Calif., was awarded a $3,960,000 increment of a $10,498,353 other transaction for prototypes agreement. Work will be performed in El Segundo, Calif. (62%), Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. (7%), Torrance, Calif. (16%), Carson City, Nev. (3%), Huntsville, Ala. (5%), and various other locations.
  • Space Exploration Technologies Inc., El Segundo, Calif., is being awarded a $4,000,000 increment of a $8,000,000 other transaction for prototypes agreement. Work will be performed in El Segundo, Calif. (80%) and McGregor, Texas (20%).

Under the newly awarded agreements, each team will conduct a 10-month phase IIa preliminary design and development effort to mature their launch vehicle designs. In addition, one of the companies, Space Exploration Technologies, will conduct an early, responsive launch demonstration. In 2005, DARPA and the Air Force will select one or more of the phase IIa teams to conduct detailed design and fabrication of their launch vehicle. Phase IIb will culminate in 2007 with flight tests to launch a small satellite to validate vehicle performance.

Phase III (2007-2010), 30-month duration, is meant to test the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV) HTV-2 and reusable HTV-3 integrated with the SLV.

In addition to DARPA and the Air Force, NASA has also expressed interest in the Small Launch Vehicle capability and is a formal partner in the Falcon Small Launch Vehicle development program.

Supporting the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) program called FALCON, Air Force Research Laboratory Propulsion Directorate personnel began conducting hybrid rocket testing at the Edwards Research Site in December 2004. The testing is part of FALCON 's ten-month long Phase II effort to develop and demonstrate an affordable and responsive space lift capability. The program goal is to develop a low-cost, responsive launcher capable of placing a small satellite, weighing 1,000 pounds, into a circular 100 nautical mile orbit.

The laboratory's recently renovated Test Stand 2A, rededicated on 14 January 2004, was initially used to conduct hybrid rocket horizontal tests with 20,000 pounds of thrust. The family of rockets being proposed can be as large as 250,000 pounds of thrust.

A hybrid rocket 's propellants typically consist of a rubber-like solid fuel grain and a liquid oxidizer. The designation 'hybrid ' refers to this blend of solid and liquid rocket technologies. Large hybrid rockets were last fired at AFRL in the late 1980's when the American Rocket Company (AMROC) performed testing at Edwards under the Commercial Space Act. Hybrid propulsion was also recently used by SpaceDev for propelling the SpaceShipOne rocket.

Helping to assure that AFRL's Edwards Research Site was the most modern and capable rocket research and test facility in the nation, efforts by the California Space Authority (CSA) helped identify space infrastructure needs and gained support for the refurbishment of numerous rocket test stands and facilities at the site. CSA 's support was instrumental in getting Test Stand 2A up and operating again over the last three years. Test Stand 2A is the Department of Defense's most capable rocket component development facility, capable of performing developmental testing on the largest rocket engines under development today. In the 1960's, Test Stand 2A was important in resolving the combustion instability problems that plagued the development of the Apollo Program 's main booster engine. Demonstrating its testing flexibility, AFRL put the finishing touches on the refurbished Test Stand 2A. The DARPA FALCON program funded facility improvements during Fiscal Year 2004, customizing fixtures and propellant plumbing for the FALCON tests.

A large hybrid rocket motor was successfully fired on the test stand in January 2005. The test took place on a Air Force Research Laboratory test stand overlooking Edwards' dry lake bed and surrounding Mojave Desert. The test was part of the Air Force small launch vehicle office's Falcon program. The program is a 36-month long effort to develop and demonstrate an affordable and responsive space lift launcher capable of placing a small, 1,000-pound satellite into a circular orbit of 100 nautical miles. The research site encompasses 65 square miles of Edwards AFB. Its unique research and development facilities provide state-of-the-art capabilities for researchers who provide the nation with the latest rocket propulsion technology possible.




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