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AirLaunch Breaks Another Drop Record

File photo: A rocket is dropped from a C-17.
by Staff Writers
Kirkland WA (SPX) Jul 31, 2006
AirLaunch announced Friday that its industry-government team has dropped successfully a 36-ton rocket from a C-17 cargo aircraft. The rocket, a full-scale simulated AirLaunch QuickReach, was the largest single object to be dropped from a C-17 as part of the DARPA/Air Force Falcon Small Launch Vehicle Program.

The team, including technicians from Air Launch, the U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, broke its own record set just over a month ago when a simulated QuickReach rocket that weighed 65,000 pounds was dropped out of a C-17 on June 14.

"When we learned in June that we may have another aircraft available in as short as a month, the entire team put in extra effort to make this drop test happen," said Debra Facktor Lepore, president of AirLaunch LLC.

"We were particularly excited to use a C-17 borrowed from McChord Air Force Base, located near AirLaunch's Seattle area headquarters, to support the test flown by the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base (in California)," Lepore added.

The drop was third in a series of envelope expansion tests to verify the ability of the C-17 to safely deliver AirLaunch's full-scale, full-weight QuickReach rocket to operational launch altitude. Each test set a new C-17 record for the longest and heaviest single items dropped from the aircraft.

"The team has now flown three drop tests, using three separate C-17 aircraft, demonstrating that any C-17 can be used for AirLaunch drops and ultimately for our QuickReach launches," Lepore said. "This test also leads to a new spacelift role for the C-17 - the aircraft can deliver troops and humanitarian aid one day and launch a satellite the next."

At 65.8 feet in length and a weight of 72,000 pounds, the simulated QuickReach drop test article matches the characteristics of an operational rocket. The unmodified C-17A aircraft released the test article at the operational launch altitude of 32,000 feet, with a true air speed of 330 knots.

"The launch vehicle extraction worked exactly as predicted," said launch team member Marti Sarigul-Klijn, AirLaunch's chief engineer for Gravity Air Launch. "Our combined AirLaunch/DARPA/Air Force team has worked diligently to accurately predict the performance of the simulated QuickReach rocket to assure crew and system safety."

AirLaunch's drop tests are being performed as part of the Falcon SLV program, administered by DARPA and the U.S. Air Force. The program is developing operational responsive space launch vehicles as called for in the United States Space Transportation Policy.

Responsive space would allow the government to react quickly and use small satellites equipped with sensors to monitor and provide communication for urgent military needs.

"Having a quick reaction launch system that can launch specialized small satellites will provide the warfighter with real-time data and communication during time-urgent situations," said Steve Walker, DARPA program manager.

"This test demonstrates that small companies can successfully work with government agencies to produce low cost, innovative solutions for the warfighter," Walker added.

The Falcon SLV program goal is to develop a vehicle that can launch a 1,000 pound satellite to Low Earth Orbit for less than $5 million, within 24 hours of notice. AirLaunch achieves responsiveness by launching from altitude from an unmodified C-17A or other cargo aircraft.

"We have been able to navigate our way successfully through the safety process of dropping an inert rocket out of a C-17 by working together with multiple government entities under a fixed price, milestone-based agreement," said Livingston Holder, AirLaunch chief program executive. "It shows that rapid prototyping works and that a small team like ours can really perform in a complex environment."

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JSAT-10 Now Fueled And Ready For Launch
Kourou, French Guyana (SPX) Jul 31, 2006
Arianespace announced Friday its technicians have completed the fueling process for the JCSAT-10 satellite, marking another step in the spacecraft's pre-launch checkout for its upcoming Ariane 5 ECA dual payload heavy-lift mission, currently scheduled for Aug. 11.

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