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DARPA has launched a program to use airplanes as a launchpad for putting satellites in orbit.
The Pentagon’s research agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), also anticipates slashing small satellite payload costs from more than $30,000 per pound to less than $10,000 per pound — making such launches three times cheaper. . . . DARPA wants the program to demonstrate at least 12 launches of 100-pound payloads to low Earth orbit, with each launch costing about $1 million. Launches could start as soon as 2015, according to DARPA’s official announcement of the program on Nov. 4.
At first glance this appears to be good news for Orbital Sciences and its Pegasus rocket, the only commercial launch system that has successfully put satellites into orbit using a commercial L1011 airplane as its first stage. At the same time, however, it appears DARPA is pushing for new technology to lower costs below what Orbital charges, meaning the game is open to anyone.