Northrop Offers One Answer:

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.