Northrop Grumman officials believe they have a solution to one of the problems facing the Air Force space program—namely a rapid, reusable and lower cost launch vehicle. The company has unveiled its Hybrid Launch Vehicle (HLV), claiming satellites could be launched in as little as 48 hours for two-thirds less than it would cost on a present-day medium-lift expendable launch vehicle. The concept combines a reusable, unmanned aircraft-like first stage with expendable upper stages. It would launch vertically, with the winged first stage boosting the upper stages to Mach 7 before releasing them at about 150,000 feet. Then the first stage returns to land at its home base, while the upper stages lift the payload to orbit “or deliver a conventional weapon to a distant target.” The company has a 20-month, $3 million contract with Space and Missiles Systems Center, Los Angeles AFB, Calif., to define the architecture for an operational version.
After a long period in which munitions were almost an afterthought and sacrificed to pay for other priorities, the Air Force needs to focus on them in order to have the right “package” of capabilities for future conflicts, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said June 7.