NASA, AirLaunch team up on small rockets

Tech Culture

NASA said Wednesday it agreed to colloborate with Kirkland, Wash.-based AirLaunch to build small rocket launchers and satellites for the commercial space industry. As part of the deal, NASA Ames Research Center, based in Silicon Valley, Calif., and AirLaunch will explore areas for teamwork in space missions, vehicle development and systems engineering. AirLaunch, which is developing small launch vehicles under contract with the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), will have use of Ames' facilities including its wind tunnels, arc-jet facility, flight simulators, hangars and runways. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The deal falls in line with NASA's strategy to outsource development of various space-exploration projects following cutbacks at the government agency. One of its goals is to build small spacecraft and satellites that cost less than $250 million.

"NASA Ames will become a West Coast 'space portal' for affordable small satellites and other scientific and commercial payloads," NASA Ames Director Pete Worden said in a statement. "A small commercial launch vehicle may be a very attractive approach for providing affordable, responsive launch capabilities for bio-tech, lunar and other small spacecraft payloads of interest to NASA and commercial users."

AirLaunch's so-called QuickReach Small Launch Vehicle is designed to deliver as much as 1,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit for less than $5 million per flight; and it can launch within 24 hours notice.

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