At an average cost of $380 million dollars and requiring a special location that is capable of handling the launch, setting a date and time for the launch that is some date in the future….well, it just ought to be easier!
DARPA has the answer. The ALASA concept (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access) turns your dinky small airport into a satellite launch site. Instead of requiring large rocket boosters and perhaps a few hundred million, try an expendable rocket which will be dropped from a conventional aircraft. AND how much for a launch? $1 lone million. 1/300th the cost of most launches even piggyback launches!
Aimed at the reduction of costs for putting satellites in orbit DARPA is developing ALASA. To date phase one is complete during which three designs saw development, also an automated flight termination system and space based telemetry. Now for phase two, where contractor Boeing has been selected to make the launch vehicle from advanced composites and commercial grades avionics.
AND FUEL? The ALASA will utilize a liquid monopropellant which is a combination of the fuel and the oxidizing agent in one tank. It is a simpler design and allows for cheaper manufacturing and operations.
Phase two has as a part of it – 12 orbital test launches of the prototype system with a demonstration flight scheduled in 2016.
The intention of ALASA is through streamlining design and manufacturing and also through reuse of the air-launch system. This ultimately will enable satellite owners – whoever they may be, to launch from wherever into whatever orbit they choose – whenever they choose.
YES there will be a size limitation – smaller satellites weighing 10 lbs or less for placement into lower Earth orbit will be able to use this system.
AND if it sounds like something SpaceX would be interested in – actually they are currently working on something similar. Musk has said that reusable would make space more affordable by factor of one hundred!!