Air Force C-17 Successfully Drops Prototype of Low-Cost Rocket.
AirLaunch LLC built a mock QuickReach booster for this drop as part of the Falcon program created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the USAF. The Falcon goal is to develop a booster that can launch a small satellite for less than $5 million with only 24 hours notice.
The AirLaunch LLC design achieves responsiveness by carrying the booster to altitude inside the cargo bay of an unmodified C-17A or other large cargo aircraft. This avoids delays due to local weather - the carrier aircraft can fly to clear skies for the release - and it eliminates the need to coordinate with the schedules of the other users of the Nation's Western and Eastern launch ranges.
On Sept. 29, the C-17A flew to an altitude of 6,000 feet with the QuickReach booster inside the cargo bay resting on a pallet of upturned rubber wheels. As the aircraft turned nose up by six degrees, gravity pulled the test article across the upturned tires and out the aft cargo door. The test demonstrated the QuickReach release technology, including proof that the booster's nose does not hit the C-17A roof as it leaves the aircraft. (Because the main body of the booster tilts down as it exits, this causes the portion of the booster still inside the C-17A to tilt up, but the flight test showed the nose does not tip up far enough to hit the cargo bay ceiling.)
The AirLaunch approach improves upon previous air-release methods such as the 1974 Minuteman missile air launch demo, which rested the booster on a pallet that then deployed parachutes to drag the pallet out of the cargo bay. The new AirLaunch method relies on gravity, not parachutes that can fail, and only the booster leaves the carrier aircraft - no pallets fall into the ocean or on to land.
The test was conducted at the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) by the C-17A Combined Flight Test Team, with assistance from DARPA and an AirLaunch LLC team led by drop test director Marti Sarigul-Klijn. It utilized a 65.8 foot long test article filled with water to bring its weight to 50,000 lbs., about two-thirds the weight of an actual booster. The C-17A released the test article at 145 knots air speed from 6,100 feet with future tests planned at the operational release altitude of 33,000 feet.
AirLaunch LLC has now completed an $11.3 million contract under the Falcon program Phase IIA. If selected to move forward, the project would lead to a test flight to orbit in early 2008. The operational QuickReach booster is designed to put a 1,000-lb satellite into low Earth orbit.
Major portions of the QuickReach air drop system were fabricated and assembled by Space Vector Corp. of Chatsworth, CA. Space Vector has experience in air launch projects including a 1997 test program called AltAir. This successfully dropped a live 22,000-lb missile from at C-130 at 15,000. The AltAir test placed the booster on an expendable cradle that was extracted along with the booster from the C-130 by large parachutes.
Avionics for QuickReach are provided by Universal Space Lines LLC of Newport Beach, CA, and specialized test equipment for the drop was supplied by Scaled Composites LLC of Mojave, CA.
For further information and photos of the drop, see www.air-launch.com.
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|Date:||Oct 5, 2005|
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