DARPA sets ball rolling for Rapid Eye UAV system

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The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has released a broad agency solicitation for development and demonstration of its proposed Rapid Eye ballistic missile-launched high-altitude long-endurance unmanned air vehicle system.

The proposed system would be capable of rapid-reaction surveillance of almost any point on Earth for a minimum of 7h, and is required to be on station in fewer than two orbits after launch.

DARPA solicitation documents released on 21 November say "the ability to deploy a persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform anywhere in the world through the use of a launch system would provide a dramatic new capability to the US military.

"The Rapid Eye system will allow the military to rapidly respond to developing situations and quickly provide decision makers with the persistent coverage of time-critical events."

Project implementation is being planned as a four-stage effort that will see development of an initial concept design, followed by risk-reduction studies and preliminary demonstrator planning, full-scale demonstration design, and demonstrator system fabrication and flight test. The first phase is expected to be completed within 12 months of the first contract award. Bids close on 16 January.

The system is expected to provide global coverage using no more than two existing START treaty-approved launch facilities. The launcher will be an existing vehicle in the US inventory, with DARPA seeking to minimise any modifications. A wing has been mandated for the UAV, with lighter than air solutions specifically excluded. Radioactive energy sources have also been ruled out.

DARPA wants the UAV to be recoverable. The complete sensor and communications payload is also projected to be in the 225kg (500lb) class and options for self-destruction are also being sought.