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DARPA Names Potential Sites for Launch Challenge, Eighteen Teams Prequalify

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 8, 2018
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DARPA Launch Challenge candidate sites (Credit: DARPA)

ARLINGTON, Va. (NASA PR) — DARPA has narrowed the potential launch locations for the DARPA Launch Challenge to eight, with options for both vertical and horizontal launch. The challenge will culminate in late 2019 with two separate launches to low Earth orbit within weeks of each other from two different sites. Competitors will receive information about the final launch sites, payloads, and targeted orbit in the weeks prior to each launch.

The potential sites are spread across the United States:

  • California Spaceport, Vandenberg Air Force Base
  • Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Florida
  • Cecil Spaceport, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops Island, Virginia
  • Mojave Air and Space Port, California
  • Naval Outlying Field, San Nicolas Island, California
  • Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska, Kodiak
  • Spaceport America, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Eighteen teams have prequalified to participate in the challenge, passing the first hurdle in the milestone process by proposing a viable solution for flexible and responsive launch. The diverse pool of applicants reflects the growth of the small commercial launch industry, and its potential to support emerging national security needs.

“Response from teams with different ways of achieving flexible and responsive launch solutions on short notice has been tremendous,” said Todd Master, program manager for the Launch Challenge in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “The different approaches to technologies used, launch requirements, fuel use, and teaming are a testament to the evolving space community.”

To successfully pass the qualification phase, potential competitors must complete three discrete applications. Potential competitors submitted pre-qualification applications in mid-October, and the DARPA Launch Challenge application is due by Nov. 30. Teams also must submit and receive acceptance of an FAA license application by Feb. 1, 2019.

The complexity of commercial space transportation regulations can present challenges for both new and experienced applicants. Teams are encouraged to consult with the FAA well in advance of submitting a launch license application to reduce programmatic risk by identifying and addressing potential regulatory questions or issues.

If teams successfully complete all three steps, they will qualify for the launch phase and receive an initial $400,000 cash prize. Teams successfully completing the first launch will receive a $2 million prize. For a successful second launch, prizes of $10 million, $9 million and $8 million are available for the top three teams respectively, ranked by factors including mass, time to orbit, and orbit accuracy.

5 responses to “DARPA Names Potential Sites for Launch Challenge, Eighteen Teams Prequalify”

  1. WhoAmI says:

    Wow.. Spaceport America, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico made the cut. Could this be the first thing that launches something into orbit there, should they actually select the location in the end?

    • ThomasLMatula says:

      There were corridors that were mapped out for orbital launches in the 1990’s when it was Southwest Regional Spaceport. It’s good to see that it’s in the running.

  2. Saturn1300 says:

    Who are the 18 teams? I can’t find the names. I guess Mini-BFS would be able to take off and land at any of these sites. SpaceX has not entered contests though. May not pay enough.

    • duheagle says:

      The team info hasn’t been released yet.

      The only one of these sites SpaceX’s mini-BFS can launch from is Canaveral as it’s the only place on the list that has a Falcon 9 pad.

      This contest really seems to be aimed at finding some potential future competitor for SpaceX. DoD already has SpaceX’s phone number so it doesn’t have to go beating the bushes for it.

      • Saturn1300 says:

        The finalists has not been released yet, but the 18 was chosen a lo ng time ago. I hope that mini-BFS is like BFS and is able with a portable flame deflector to take off and land vertical anywhere. They say take off vertical and land horizontal though.

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