The United States space force is beginning to explore whether large commercially developed missiles could be used to quickly deliver cargo to hot spots around the world, such as war zones.
The project would take advantage of advances made in the commercial rocket industry by companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.
The goal is for the missiles to be able to transport up to 100 tons of cargo to a wide variety of locations.
Space Force will look at rockets that can land and be reused, such as those developed by SpaceX. Those missiles are partially reusable, based on factors such as payload weight and propellant.
They could also look at missiles that may be able to drop cargo after arriving at a destination without landing at all, according to CBS News.
“This idea has been around since the dawn of space travel,” said Greg Spanjers, manager of the Rocket Cargo program at the Air Force Research Laboratory.
United States Space Forces begin exploring whether large commercially developed rockets could be used to rapidly deliver cargo to hotspots around the world
‘It’s always been an interesting, intriguing idea’ [but] it never really made sense in the past.”
The high cost of launches made it unaffordable in the past, but the ability to relaunch rockets has begun to drive costs down.
Rocket Cargo is the first ‘Vanguard’ program led by Space Force as part of the Air Force’s overarching technology and science strategy.
“Vanguard initiatives are driving groundbreaking breakthroughs that maintain our advantage over near-peer competitors, and this latest addition is also an important milestone as the first Vanguard was evaluated under the auspices of the Space Force,” Acting Secretary of the Air Force said. John Roth in a release.
The Air Force Research Laboratory will investigate whether missiles can land “on a wide variety of non-traditional materials and surfaces, including remote locations,” the Air Force said in a press release.
They will also “research the ability to safely land a missile near personnel and structures, design a missile cargo bay and logistics for rapid loading and unloading, and drop cargo from the missile after reentry to locate locations.” operate where a missile or can’t possibly land.’
Taken from SpaceX’s live webcast, this photo screen grab shows the launch of the Starship SN15
SpaceX is one of the companies developing reusable rockets, which interests Space Force
The goal would be for the missiles to be built “with a potential capacity of 30 to 100 tons,” or roughly the lift capacity of a C-17 cargo plane.
“The cost per pound to transport it decreases as the missiles get bigger,” Spainrs notes.
Spainrs pointed out that the idea is now being explored as the technology is catching up, with companies like Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance trying to follow in SpaceX’s footsteps.
“We don’t see SpaceX as the only viable provider of this capability,” Spanjers said, adding that a “number of providers” could compete for contracts for the study.
SpaceX is working on their Starship project, a super-heavy rocket with an upper stage that could land all over the world.
The US Air Force wants a space rocket that can deliver cargo weighing up to 100 tons anywhere in the world within an hour. Pictured: An Air Force briefing slide
Bezos’ Blue Orign is also working on a project, New Glenn, with a reusable first stage, while United Launch Alliance is working on a booster with reusable motors.
“Ultimately we don’t want to end up with one company anyway, we want to put TRANSCOM (United States Transportation Command) in a position where when they want to transport goods, using missiles becomes another mode of transport,” said Spanjers. ‘And then they can switch between different suppliers.’
‘We are trying to figure out how to put vehicles on a rocket, unload those vehicles and go’, Spanjers concludes. “It’s going to be a fun project.”
Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. ‘Jay’ Raymond also pointed out the importance of the project.
TRANSCOM and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) were the two commands that could use the Rocket Cargo, the Air Force believes
“Once realized, Rocket Cargo will fundamentally change the fast-paced logistics landscape, connecting equipment to collaborative war fighters in a fraction of the time it takes today.
“In the event of a conflict or humanitarian crisis, the Space Force can provide our national leadership with an independent option to achieve strategic goals from space.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory does not plan to develop their own missiles for the project.
Spanjers said the program could focus not only on quickly delivering cargo to various locations, but also troops in the future.
Pictured: First stage of a Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket lands on Landing Zone 1 after the launch of 11 Orbcomm OG-2 telecommunications satellites into low Earth orbit in 2015
According to Defense One, the Air Force proposed $47.9 million for the Rocket Cargo program in the 2022 budget.
Earlier this week, the Air Force revealed their hopes that a space launch rocket could transport cargo weighing up to 100 tons anywhere in the world within an hour.
The aim of that program is to conduct an end-to-end test by the end of next year, The ride reported.
Others in the Vanguard program include the Skyborg initiative for an AI computer capable of piloting unmanned aerial vehicles, the Golden Horde network project for swarm munitions, and the Navigation Technology Satellite 3.
The massive cost of the missions could be a troubling factor, as SpaceX currently estimates a launch with a reusable Falcon 9 rocket will cost $62 million, though Musk hopes to reduce that figure to $2 million.
A C-17 currently costs about $540,000 to ship anywhere in the world, although flights can take up to 18 hours.