PALMDALE, Calif., 5 July 2012. Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] has been selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to receive a Phase I Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program study contract valued at about $6.2 million.
The ALASA program is a research and development effort maturing technologies to maintain vital satellite capabilities during a crisis. It is headed by Mitchell Burnside Clapp, a long-time advocate of air launch and winged systems.
Phase I of the ALASA effort spans 18 months, DARPA anticipates a fast development program leading to 36 launches per year by 2015. During that time, a team led by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works will define a preliminary system design, culminating with a demonstration system definition review. The team includes Alliant Techsystems Operations, LLC, and Defense Propulsion System, LLC.
ALASA seeks to address military concerns with traditional ground-launched systems. The military views these systems as costly due to high manpower requirements at fixed facilities, sluggish due to the need to reconfigure pads between launches, rigid due to limitations on launch azimuth launch times, and brittle because they are vulnerable to weather, earthquake, tsunamis, and enemy attack. DARPA believes that air launched systems will be more affordable, more responsive (the goal is one day from call-up to launch), more flexible (any orbit, any time), and more resilient.
Like NASA’s nanosatellite launch challenge, ALASA hopes to develop a reliable, cost-effective launcher for small satellites. The NASA challenge is targeting CubeSat-sized payloads up to one kilogram. ALASA wants to develop a system that can put up to 100 pounds into low Earth orbit.