DARPA has selected eight potential launch locations for the DARPA Launch Challenge, with options for both vertical and horizontal launch. The challenge concludes in late 2019 with two separate launches to low Earth orbit within weeks of each other from two different sites.
Eighteen teams prequalified to participate in the challenge, passing the first step in the incremental process by offering a viable solution for flexible and responsive launch. The diverse pool of applicants reflects the growth of the small commercial launch industry, and its promise to deliver on emerging national security needs, DARPA said in a release.
“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 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.
Because of the complexity of commercial space transportation, DARPA recommends that teams consult with the FAA well in advance of submitting a launch license application to reduce their 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, according to the release.
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