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Operationally Responsive Spacelift Initiative

The 2002 Operationally Responsive Spacelift (ORS) Mission Needs Statement (MNS) establishes the requirement for responsive, on-demand access to, through and from space. This requirement encompasses the spacelift missions of delivering payloads to, or from, mission orbit and changing the orbit of existing systems to better satisfy new mission requirements. It also requires on-demand, flexible, and cost effective operations.

The Operationally Responsive Spacelift MNS references the Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) as part of the Military Spaceplane system that could meet the DoD's future needs for low cost, responsive spacelift.

In December 2002 the DepSecDef directed the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to establish a joint program office to accelerate the Operationally Responsive Spacelift (ORS) effort to meet portions of this requirement. This joint technology development program has been named Force Application and Launch from CONUS (FALCON) and is focused on the development and transition of more mature technologies into a future weapon system capable of delivering and deploying conventional payloads worldwide from and through space. Concept development, risk reduction and technology maturation are the key elements in the ORS program; and demonstrations, modeling and simulations are the critical tools.

The Air Force began the Operationally Responsive Spacelift initiative in 2003. The goal of the program is to pave the way for reusable rockets that could be launched at a low cost on short notice. As part of a one year Analysis of Alternatives study which began 01 March 2003, teams investigated a variety of space planes, air-launched boosters, and fully reusable as well as expendable or partly-reusable spacelifters. The program's payloads include the common aero vehicle, a munition that can be delivered from or through space, along with counterspace payloads. The study is closely linked to NASA's Next Generation Launch Technology program, the follow-on to their scaled-back Space Launch Initiative.

Based on numerous Government and industry studies in recent years, and on the recent Air Force Requirements Operational Capabilities Council (AFROCC)-approved Operationally Responsive Spacelift (ORS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA), the Air Force decided that this capability will be in the form of a family of modular, hybrid launch vehicles. A hybrid vehicle consists of a reusable first stage with an expendable upper stage stack. The name given to this next-generation family of hybrid vehicles is Affordable REsponsive Spacelift (ARES).

The ARES concept is that of a reusable fly-back booster with expendable upper stages. In the ORS AoA, this concept was found to be highly responsive (48 - 24 hour turnaround), but to have lower costs generally than either fully expendable or fully reusable solutions. The reason for this is that the ARES concept expends relatively little hardware mass (about a third of a fully expendable vehicle for a given payload), and requires development of a relatively small amount of reusable hardware mass (again, about a third of a fully reusable vehicle for a given payload).

Additionally, the Government believes that this concept lends itself to incorporation into a modular family of vehicles, thus permitting 1) support of a range of payload mass insertion needs, 2) flight rate and fleet size tailoring for an optimal balance between responsiveness, affordability, and survivability, and 3) cost-efficient utilization of the industrial base.

A multi-staged system could be in place by 2014, depending on funding. Also, a low-cost expendable upper stage booster and an orbital transfer vehicle capable of handling spacecraft servicing would be developed. The goal is to have a system that can launch within hours to days as opposed the weeks to months of preparation required by current boosters. Payloads could include the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV, an reentry vehicle which can deliver a variety of munitions to a ground target) or microsatellites.




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