Fighter Jets May Launch Small Satellites to Space

by Elizabeth Howell | February 27, 2015

Small satellites could hitch rides to space on an F-15 fighter jet by next year, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency responsible for developing new technologies for the U.S. military.

DARPA’s so-called Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program is an ambitious project that aims to launch small satellites more quickly, and reduce the cost of lofting them into orbit. Traditional launches using rockets cost roughly $30,000 per pound ($66,000 per kilogram), DARPA officials have said.

The F-15 jet would take off on a nearly vertical trajectory, with the expendable launch vehicle mounted underneath it. Essentially, the fighter jet acts as the first stage of a rocket, according to DARPA. After the aircraft flies to a high altitude, it releases the satellite and can then return to land on a conventional runway.

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