DARPA plans to test-fly a prototype F-15-carried rapid and affordable light weight satellite launch vehicle later this year, and potentially blast a test vehicle into orbit as early as 2016, officials announced. “We’ve made good progress so far toward [Airborne Launch Assisted Space Access’] ambitious goal of propelling 100-pound satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) within 24 hours of call-up, all for less than $1 million per launch,” said Bradford Tousley, DARPA tactical technology director. DARPA worked with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works to mature the technology, and awarded Boeing a contract to design and build up to 12 test articles. Pending the success of a new liquid monopropellant fuel being developed for the booster, DARPA plans to launch an ALASA prototype into space in the “first half of 2016,” according to the Feb. 5 release. Depending on the result, DARPA plans to launch 11 more test-shots in the summer of 2016.
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.