Programme's goal is to develop ability to strike targets anywhere in world from USA in 2h

Initial concept-development contracts have been awarded under a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)/US Air Force programme to demonstrate technology for a weapon system able to strike a target anywhere on Earth from the USA in less than 2h.

Under Phase 1 of the Force Application and Launch from the Continental US (Falcon) programme, DARPA has awarded nine contracts to design a small launch vehicle (SLV) and three to develop concepts for a hypersonic weapon system (HWS).

The programme's aim is to develop a near-term capability, by around 2010, to strike targets up to 5,500km (3,000nm) from the USA by using the SLV to launch the common aero vehicle (CAV), an unpowered, manoeuvrable, hypersonic glide vehicle carrying 450kg (1,000lb) of munitions. The ultimate Falcon vision is the capability, by 2025, to strike targets up to 16,600km away in under 2h using an autonomous, reusable, hypersonic cruise vehicle (HCV) carrying a 5,500kg payload of longer range and more manoeuvrable Enhanced CAVs (ECAVs).

The six-month first phase is split into two tasks. Under Task 1, nine firms have won $350,000-540,000 contracts to design an SLV capable of placing a 450kg payload into low-Earth orbit for less than $5 million a launch. Recipients include Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences, but most are small companies developing low-cost boosters. They include:

AirLaunch, with a multistage expendable liquid-propellant missile air-launched from a cargo aircraft; Exquadrum, with the Kestrel, a three-stage booster using gas-generator hybrid liquid-oxygen/solid-propellant propulsion and steam-launched from a silo to allow aerodynamic control; KT Engineering, with the radially segmented launch vehicle concept assembled from identical segments manufactured using non-aerospace materials and processes; Microcosm, with the Scorpius booster built up from identical propulsion pods with carbonfibre tanks and liquid-oxygen/Jet-A-fuelled ablative rocket motors; Schafer; with a two-stage vehicle using pump-fed liquid rocket motors able to burn propellants ranging from Jet-A to higher-output advanced hydrocarbons; SpaceX, with the Falcon two-stage liquid-oxygen/kerosene launch vehicle under private-venture development and due to launch in January.

Under Task 2 of Phase 1 of the Falcon programme, $1.2-1.5 million contracts to develop conceptual designs and operational concepts for the hypersonic weapon system, including the CAV, ECAV and HCV, have been awarded to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman as well as to Andrews Space, which also received a Task 1 contract.

Source: Flight International