On its part, DARPA is trying to accelerate things through the Launch Challenge, a competition aimed at demonstrating that launch capabilities on short notice can be in the benefit of the nation’s defense strategy.
DARPA says that it currently takes ten years to build, test, and launch a spacecraft. The competition is meant to show that, with enough exercise, payloads could be sent to orbit on extremely short notice, with no prior knowledge of the payload, destination orbit or launch site. And then do it again days later.
As per the regulations of the challenge, teams will receive a few days' notice to the first launch site. Following the first launch, they await info on the second location. All of this is supposed to take place at the end of next year.
Until then, in order not to waste several good rocket launches, DARPA said it is looking for organizations interested in having their payload sent up to near Earth orbit. Anything can go, from instrumented mass simulators to fully functional spacecraft, Cubesats and more, it has a weight of maximum 500 kilograms.
“Today, there is a backlog of payloads to be put into orbit,” said in a statement Todd Master, DARPA program manager.
“This is a call for potential payloads that will provide a mutually beneficial arrangement for both the spacecraft developers seeking launch services and the Launch Challenge competitors.The DARPA Launch Challenge provides a vehicle to connect these groups and get payloads on orbit in the next 18 months.”