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AIRBORNE SATELLITE PROGRAM TAKES OFF TEST OF 65,000-POUND DUMMY ROCKET TO LEAD LIVE LAUNCH JUNE '08.

Byline: JIM SKEEN Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE -- A company vying to develop a new military satellite launch system dropped a 65,000-pound dummy booster rocket from a C-17 transport plane, moving the program closer to a live launch.

The dummy booster was dropped Wednesday over Edwards as part of AirLaunch LLC's efforts to develop a launch vehicle called QuickReach rocket, intended to be able to put small surveillance and communication satellites into space more quickly and for significantly less money than conventional rockets.

``This was an important step for the program,'' said Steven Walker of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a sponsor. ``It expanded the envelope of C-17 air drop capabilities, and points the way toward a safe extraction technique for an affordable and responsive space lift capability.''

The QuickReach rocket would be carried aloft by an airplane to its launch area, then dropped to fire its rocket motor and fly into space carrying a satellite.

The Kirkland, Wash., company is looking to launch a live QuickReach rocket in 2008.

AirLaunch wants to create a system capable of launching a 1,000-pound satellite into space within 24 hours of getting an order, and doing it for a cost under $5 million. Now it costs about $20 million to launch a satellite of that size and it can take months to prepare a launch.

The test was part of a program that is exploring a new way of launching small satellites into space called the Falcon Small Launch Vehicle (SLV) program, administered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force.

The drop test was conducted by Edwards' 418th Flight Test Squadron using a C-17 on loan from the Air Force's Air Mobility Command.

As an added bonus, the test flight set a record for the C-17 transport program as the largest single object ever dropped by the aircraft. The next test, which has not yet been scheduled, will feature a 72,000-pound test object, the expected weight of a live QuickReach rocket, said Debra Facktor Lepore, president of AirLaunch LLC.

``This test is another accomplishment that will lead us to the next phase of the program and eventually to launch,'' Lepore said. ``We are excited to be working with DARPA and the Air Force to develop new technologies that will enable operationally responsive access to space.''

AirLaunch's QuickReach rocket would carry satellites equipped with communications, camera and sensor payloads that allow special-purpose support for military activities, hurricanes and forest fires, as well as enable time-urgent communications in remote areas, the company said.

``Launching from the C-17 aircraft provides operational flexibility that becomes extremely important in matters of national security,'' said Lepore. ``The data from this drop test will provide us more information to develop this concept into a viable system for the United States.''

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com

(661) 267-5743

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) At Edwards Air Force Base, an Air Force C-17 drops a dummy AirLaunch rocket in a test on Wednesday. AirLaunch is trying to develop a cheaper, faster way to put small satellites into space.

AirLaunch photo
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 19, 2006
Words:517
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