DARPA Announces a New Challenge to Create Rapid-Response Rockets

Tuesday, 20 February 2018 - 11:10AM
Technology
Military Tech
Space
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Tuesday, 20 February 2018 - 11:10AM
DARPA Announces a New Challenge to Create Rapid-Response Rockets
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Image credit: DARPA
When a "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist" launches his own roadster into space on the back of a reusable rocket, it's a pretty clear sign that a new space age has dawned. No longer is outer space the sole domain of government agencies working out of control rooms built during the Cold War. Now? Space is the Wild West, and it looks like DARPA wants to capitalize on the hundreds of private space launch companies popping up in the rapidly-accelerating space race.

If you haven't been following along, the US military's stance on space is undergoing a shift recently, led in part by General John Hyten. Hyten has made two big claims when it comes to America's future in space. First: we need to be able to innovate (and fail) much more quickly. Second: we need to be able to replace destroyed, sabotaged, or damaged satellites on very short notice. Hyten foresees space becoming a new theater in modern warfare, and says that Russia and China are already designing weapons to neutralize US satellites. Without a way to quickly repair or replace those satellites, the nation's ability to defend itself and its allies will be hamstrung.

We're guessing these are the motives driving DARPA's new challenge, which plans to reward companies with cash prizes for first launching large payloads into orbit within only a few days or weeks of notice, then launching a second payload into a different orbit from another launch site. "Launch Fast, Change Sites, Launch Fast Again" is the slogan attached to the challenge's teaser image (found here). The timing for this challenge makes sense, too. According to the investment firm Space Angels, 120 private space launch and space exploration companies received about $3.9 billion in investments last year, and the market is only projected to grow in the coming years. The Dubai Future Foundation has announced a $500,000 prize for new, high-risk space colonization and exploration proposals, too – with the emphasis on "high-risk."

In the new space race, failure is an option – and it's quickly becoming synonymous with innovation.
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DARPA Announces a New Challenge to Create Rapid-Response Rockets
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