Force Application and Launch from CONUS (FALCON)
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force are jointly sponsoring the FALCON program to develop technologies and demonstrate capabilities that will enable transformational changes in global, time critical strike missions. Air Force technology studies have identified essentially four capabilities that are necessary for future US air superiority. These are global reach/ power, rapid response (speed), low casualty rates, and space operations. Two flight vehicle concepts directly result from the above desired capabilities: the unmanned air vehicle and the hypersonic cruise vehicle.
The Government's vision of an ultimate prompt global reach capability (circa 2025 and beyond) is engendered in a reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle (HCV). This autonomous aircraft would be capable of taking off from a conventional military runway and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours. It could carry a 12,000-pound payload consisting of Common Aero Vehicles (CAVs), cruise missiles, small diameter bombs or other munitions. The Government is interested in innovative HCV concepts that utilize novel technologies that mitigate heat load and extend range. Such innovative concepts could enable effective global reach missions and potentially provide the first stage of a two-stage access to space vehicle.
A much nearer term prompt, global strike capability is needed however. This near-term operational capability is embodied in the CAV munitions delivery system integrated with a low-cost, operationally responsive, Small Launch Vehicle (SLV). CAV is an unpowered, maneuverable, hypersonic glide vehicle capable of carrying approximately 1,000 pounds in munitions or other payload. SLV, a low-cost, responsive launch system is capable of boosting a CAV to its requisite insertion conditions (e.g. geo-location, altitude, velocity, and attitude). Taken together, the CAV/SLV system will enable this nearer-term global reach capability. The SLV will serve a two-fold function in that it will also provide a low-cost, responsive launch capability for placing small satellites into Sun Synchronous Orbit. The goal of the joint DARPA/Air Force FALCON program is to develop and validate, in-flight, technologies that will enable both near-term and far-term capability to execute time-critical, prompt global strike missions.
The fundamental underpinnings 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 (approximately 2010) operational capability for prompt global strike from CONUS while also enabling future development of a reusable HCV for the far-term (approximately 2025). This common set of key technologies includes: efficient aerodynamic shaping for high lift to drag, lightweight and durable high temperature materials, thermal management techniques including active cooling and trajectory shaping (such as periodic flight), target update and weapons separation. These technologies will be matured to flight readiness, integrated into a system design and demonstrated in a series of flight-tests. Flight tests will be conducted in a progressive manner and will provide an evolutionary forum for developing responsive concepts of operation and a low-cost launch infrastructure.
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