US army missile cargo program for SpaceX’s Starship and others

The Starship prototype SN10 fires its three Raptor engines when it lands.


The US Air Force announced that Friday is expanding a small development program that will use reusable rockets like the ones SpaceX builds to deliver cargo quickly anywhere in the world.

The experimental military program called Rocket Cargo is being led by the US Space Force, the Pentagon announced. The program will explore and develop skills such as landing “a missile on a variety of non-traditional materials and surfaces,” developing “a missile loading bay and logistics for rapid loading and unloading,” and “dropping cargo from the missile” . after re-entry to serve places where a missile or an airplane is impossible to land. “

The Air Force’s 2022 budget proposal called for nearly $ 50 million for Rocket Cargo to continue the study concept work begun last year with small contracts to SpaceX and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc).

Rocket Cargo effectively describes the Starship missiles SpaceX is developing, as the military program will examine fully reusable private missiles that can launch anywhere from 30 to 100 tons. Currently, Starship is the only rocket in development that both plans to reuse and can launch that much mass.

Point-to-point space travel is a form of transportation that involves a rocket launching into space and then returning to another location, thereby hypothetically being able to move supplies or possibly people from one side of the earth to the other hour.

SpaceX has tested prototypes of Starship at its facility in Texas and most recently landed and recovered the prototype SN15 after a high-altitude flight test. While SpaceX aims to accomplish a feat that no previous rocket has achieved – quickly reusing rockets to remind space travel more of air travel rather than throwing the rocket away after launch – the final high-altitude test was the first to end without that the prototype explodes. The company has not yet reached orbit with the rocket.

Dr. Greg Spanjers, director of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Rocket Cargo program, cited NASA’s Human Landing Systems program competition as an example of companies working on “viable” options for rocket cargo capability. This NASA program, which focuses on building lunar landers that take crews to the lunar surface, included three teams led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos ‘Blue Origin, and Leidos’ subsidiary Dynetics. However, Spanjers said the Air Force had “spoken to a lot more companies than that” about the Rocket Cargo program.

“We have spoken to a number of vendors that we see may come to the table to compete for these contracts,” Spanjers said on Friday. “SpaceX is certainly the most visible, no question … [but] What you are trying to do is get into an orbital or suborbital trajectory, lower the payload again, and land on planet Earth. There are several companies today that have these technological capabilities, not just SpaceX. “

The Air Force declined to disclose which companies it spoke to about the Rocket Cargo program, and Spanjers said it was not “appropriate” before the Pentagon begins the contract process. The contract tender is due to begin very soon, even though the Air Force declined an appointment.

Additionally, the Air Force stands ready to consider companies for Rocket Cargo that are not yet developing a fully reusable point-to-point capability.

“Today we will create the interfaces and the pathways to encourage more and more companies to enter this area. Hopefully they will see a return on investment in an EU-approved business case [Department of Defense] Expressed interest in buying the service later, “said Spanjers.

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