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C4iSR: Air

DARPA delays key Launch Challenge deadline

14 February 2019
DARPA is delaying a major deadline for its Launch Challenge programme. This should attract additional teams such as Vector Space Systems, who have already announced their intention to participate. Source: Vector Space Systems

Key Points

  • DARPA delayed an important Launch Challenge milestone, allowing additional teams to pre-qualify
  • The partial US federal government shutdown affected the launch licence approach, a programme requirement

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) delayed an important deadline by 30 days for its Launch Challenge (DLC), allowing additional teams to pre-qualify.

Todd Master, DLC programme manager, told two reporters on 12 February that the reason for the delay is that the Federal Administration Agency's (FAA's) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) was unable to issue launch licences, a programme requirement, due to the partial federal government shutdown that ran from December 2018 to January 2019.

Master, speaking at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation's (CSF's) Commercial Space Transportation conference on 12 February, said 18 teams have pre-qualified or passed the first stage of approval for DLC. He said that about 55 companies attended a proposer's day in Los Angeles in May 2018. Many of these companies were in various stages of maturity.

The shutdown did not affect the Pentagon, but did affect the AST. Master said the federal government shutdown hurt DLC as there is considerable back-and-forth between AST and companies who apply for launch licences.

There are three steps to qualifying for DLC: pre-qualification, DARPA application, and qualification; receipt of a 'complete enough' designation from the FAA; and launch licence approval by the FAA.

Previously, teams that did not receive their FAA launch licence by 1 February could not qualify for the launch phase. Master declined to say how many teams had completed the three-step process.

DLC consists of two phases: the qualification phase and a launch phase featuring two launch competitions. Completing the qualification phase qualifies teams for an initial USD400,000 per awardee.

The launch phase consists of two launches. The first launch, a successful low earth orbit (LEO) mission to the correct orbit, results in a USD2 million prize award.

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