Enter the Mothership

A USAF C-17 flew to an altitude of about 6,000 feet, nosed upward by about six degrees, and sent a dummy booster rolling out the aft cargo door off rubber wheels. The demonstration proved that the nose of the dummy QuickReach booster—65.8 feet long and loaded with water to make it weigh 50,000 pounds—would clear the aircraft without touching the cargo bay ceiling. The test success takes DARPA and the Air Force a step closer toward finding a low-cost, small satellite launch platform. There are two clear advantages to using an airlifter: it can get the booster above bad weather and it avoids scheduling conflicts at the nation’s two launch ranges. An actual QuickReach booster, which would weigh around 70,000 pounds and would be released at about 33,000 feet, could boost a 1,000-pound satellite into orbit.