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DARPA swapping rockets for fighter jets in satellite mission

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a new way to launch low-orbit satellites, utilising US fighter jets instead of rockets.

Under the new Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program DARPA will be able to cut launch times from months to hours, a big increase in potential satellite launches.

DARPA projects 24 hour launches with a cost of under $1 million (£650,000), much lower than the current rocket price at around $60 million (£39 million) per launch.

The fighter jet will begin a vertical ascension, holding onto the mini-rocket. Once it hits a certain height, the mini-rocket will disconnect from the fighter jet, and begin to push to low-orbit, removing two outer layers in the process.

"We're moving ahead with rigorous testing of new technologies that we hope one day could enable revolutionary satellite launch systems that provide more affordable, routine and reliable access to space." Said Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office.

It is the first move by the government to show its own cost-effective way of launching satellites, following various attempts from Google, SpaceX and OneWeb.

The private sector has been looking into affordable ways to provide internet to remote places in the world, but the government could use these low-orbit satellites for surveillance, reconnaissance and other missions.

Dropping the cost to $1 million (£650,000) is a big increase, although it still doesn't beat Google's 'Project Loon' cost, which sends hot air balloons with small satellites attached around the globe.

The only issue with Project Loon at the moment is flight projection and giving broad access to satellite data, Google is working on these two issues, but currently has no date for launch.

David has been a technology journalist for over six years, covering a wide range of sectors. He currently researches apps, app sectors and app markets for Business of Apps, and has written for ITProPortal, RTInsights, ReadWrite, and Digital Trends.