The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is leading the project called Airborne Launch Assist Space Access, or ALASA. Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said earlier this month the agency plans to execute the program’s first flight demonstration by the end of the year and then 12 orbital tests in 2016.
Engineers have designed a launch vehicle that can be carried under an F-15. The F-15 would carry the launch vehicle to a high enough altitude before the launch vehicle would separate from the aircraft. The vehicle would then use its own rocket boosters to leave the Earth’s atmosphere before delivering the satellite into orbit.
DARPA officials hope the program can deliver satellites under 100 pounds within 24 hours notice and for a price tag under $1 million.
The Boeing Company, which builds the F-15, is the prime contractor for ALASA.