AirLaunch is to conduct additional drop tests of its QuickReach launch vehicle from a US Air Force Boeing C-17 transport, working up to the booster’s full weight. At 32,700kg (72,000lb), the QuickReach will the heaviest payload dropped from a C-17 – and the first liquid-fuelled rocket to be dropped from an aircraft – says Dr Steven Walker, manager of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Falcon programme.

DARPA is funding small launch vehicle (SLV) development by AirLaunch and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) under the responsive spacelift portion of its Falcon programme. AirLaunch is on track for a critical design review (CDR) late this year, which could lead to a QuickReach demonstration flight in 2008. A full-weight drop test of a dummy booster and full-duration firing of the second-stage engine are scheduled to be completed before the CDR, says Walker.

Designed to be carried by any C-17, using a drive-on container/launcher, the QuickReach is deployed by gravity with the aircraft flying at 6° angle of attack. A drogue stabilises the booster until the engine can be ignited.

Investigation of the failed first flight in March of SpaceX’s Falcon launch vehicle is still under way, but Walker says DARPA is considering paying for a second flight. The Falcon’s first-stage engine shut down 30s into the flight from Kwajalein in the Pacific (Flight International, 4-10 April). The second flight is expected to carry a payload of instrumentation, rather than a satellite.

Source: Flight International