Boeing is studying the feasibility of developing an air-launched booster capable of launching military and commercial payloads on demand.

The AirLaunch booster is being designed by Boeing and Thiokol Propulsion as a possible launch system for the USAir Force's planned Space Manoeuvre Vehicle (SMV), a reusable, unmanned spaceplane.

Launched from the top of a modified Boeing 747-400F freighter, the winged AirLaunch booster would also be able to carry a 3,000kg (7,500lb) commercial payload into low-Earth orbit.

Preliminary design is to begin after a system requirements review in June, says Boeing. The development programme calls for the system to be available to launch an SMV demonstration vehicle in the fourth quarter of 2004.

The booster is made up of two Thiokol Castor 120 solid-rocket motors and a new third stage. The commercial version has a payload module based on the payload fairing of Boeing's Delta II launcher.

Source: Flight International