United States of America USAF / DARPA FALCON Program


In Nov 2003, DARPA and the USAF released contracts to start development for their FALCON program, which is an acronym for Force Application and Launch from CONtinental United States.

It is to be developed in two parts with the SLV expected to be complete by 2010 and a HCV expected by 2025. Nine contractors were initially selected to perform a phase one level systems definition for the SLV.

Quick links:
Phase I – Phase II – Phase III }

The goal of the joint DARPA/Air Force Program is to develop and validate in flight technologies that will enable both near term and far term capability to demonstrate affordable and responsive space lift capabilities.

The SLV will be designed to place small satellites into a Sun Synchronous Orbit with a payload ranging from 200 Lbs up to 1000 Lbs at a 450 mile orbit at a 79 degree inclination.

In addition, a total launch cost of less than 5 million dollars or less is desired. Existing launch systems are costly and in limited supply so the solicitation specifically requested innovative technologies to reduce launch cost and improve launch responsiveness.

Emphasis will be on incremental flight-testing using a building block approach.

USAF wants to build the means to attack any target on the globe within 12 hours of an order to do so. That requirement stems from an April 2003 Air Staff study titled ‘Long-Range Global Precision Engagement.’ In it, the Air Force, working with the Joint Staff and Office of the Secretary of Defense, put strike capabilities into three categories: prompt global strike, prompt theater strike, and persistent area strike.

USAF believes the products of Falcon will fulfill, to a great degree, the prompt global strike element. The ability to conduct prompt global strike would dissuade or deter enemies because they would know that the US could ‘hold at risk or strike high-value targets anytime and anywhere on the globe,’ said the study. Such a technology would also eliminate the need for intratheater buildup before conducting a strike.

Phase I – System Definition (completed)

Task I – (SLV)

FALCON Phase I, Task 1 (SLV) contractors received between $350,000 and $540,000 each for their Phase I effort.
Task 1 contractors are listed below.

  • Air Launch LLC, Reno Nevada
  • Andrews Space Inc., Seattle Washington
  • Exquadrum Inc., Victorville California
  • KT Engineering, Huntsville Alabama
  • Lockheed Martin Corp., New Orleans Louisiana
  • Microcosm Inc., El Segundo California
  • Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles Virginia
  • Schafer Corp., Chelmsford Massachusetts
  • Space Exploration Technologies, El Segundo California

In FALCON Phase I Task 1 (SLV), contractors developed conceptual designs, performance predictions, cost objectives, and development and demonstration plans for the SLV. The SLV will provide a low-cost, responsive launch capability capable of placing a small satellite or other payload weighing approximately 1,000 pounds into a low Earth orbit at a total launch cost of less than $5,000,000 (excluding payload and payload integration costs).

Task II – (HWS)

FALCON Phase I, Task 2 (HWS), contractors received between $1,200,000 and $1,500,000 each for their Phase I efforts.

Task 2 contractors are listed below.

  • Andrews Space Inc., Seattle, Wash.
  • Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Palmdale, Calif.
  • Northrop Grumman Corp., Air Combat Systems, El Segundo, Calif.

In FALCON Phase I Task 2 (HWS), contractors developed conceptual designs, concepts of operations, and a demonstration plan and identify critical technologies for the Hypersonic Weapon Systems portion of the program, which includes the CAV, the ECAV, and the Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle.

The Common Aero Vehicle will be an unpowered, maneuverable, hypersonic glide vehicle capable of carrying approximately 1,000 pounds of munitions, with a range of approximately 3,000 nautical miles.

The Enhanced Common Aero Vehicle would be a more advanced design that offered substantially greater range and improved maneuverability.

The reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle will be an autonomous aircraft capable of taking off from a conventional military runway and striking targets 9,000 nautical miles distant in less than two hours.

Phase II – Design & Develop (2nd Quarter 2004 – 3rd Quarter 2007)Back to the top

Task I – (SLV)

In FALCON Phase II, the Task 1, SLV, objective is to demonstrate and flight-test all significant characteristics of the operational launch vehicle.

In 2005 competition for the Small Launch Vehicle program was narrowed to three companies: Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), AirLaunch LLC, and Lockheed Martin Corp. A fourth Phase 2 competitor, Microcosm of El Segundo, CA, had broken up its subcontractor team on its assumption that it has lost out in the competition.

Phase II will develop an SLV design in parallel with CAV development. Coordination and information exchange between SLV and HWS contractors will take place during Phase II to integrate the physical and functional characteristics of the SLV and Enhanced CAV. Deliverables will include refinement of CONOPS for each SLV approach, a detailed flight demonstration plan of each booster system, and flight-test of a single low-cost booster design.

In June 2005 Lockheed Martin successfully test-fired a hybrid motor as part of the Falcon SLV program at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Edwards Air Force Base. It was the second SLV hybrid motor firing that Lockheed Martin had conducted.

In late September 2005, an AirLaunch LLC built mock QuickReach booster was released from an Air Force C-17A cargo plane. The C-17A flew to an altitude of 6,000 feet with the QuickReach booster inside the cargo bay resting on a pallet of upturned rubber wheels. As the aircraft turned nose up by six degrees, gravity pulled the test article across the upturned tires and out the aft cargo door. The test demonstrated the QuickReach release technology, including proof that the booster’s nose does not hit the C-17A roof as it leaves the aircraft. (Because the main body of the booster tilts down as it exits, this causes the portion of the booster still inside the C-17A to tilt up, but the flight test showed the nose does not tip up far enough to hit the cargo bay ceiling.)

In November 2005, Air Launch LLC announced that it had been selected for contract continuance by DARPA under Phase 2B of the Falcon SLV program. Valued at $17.8 million for a one-year effort, the Phase 2B contract activity enables AirLaunch and its team of contractors to continue development of the QuickReach small satellite booster.

Air Launch LLC completed a full scale stage separation test of its QuickReach small launch vehicle – the first major milestone of Phase 2B of the DARPA/Air Force Falcon program. This test convincingly demonstrated that the innovative gas pneumatic stage separation technique, pioneered by AirLaunch’s founder Gary C. Hudson, is practical and safe. Prior to this full scale test, AirLaunch performed detailed modeling and conducted a number of component and subscale tests.

SpaceX’s entry in the SLV competition is the Falcon 1, the smallest rocket of their Falcon family of launch vehicles. It’s first flight was sceduled in late 2005, but has been postponed several times. Finally on March 24, 2006 it was destroyed soon after take-off from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Task II – (HTV)

In FALCON Phase II, the Task 2, HTV, objective is to flight-test a CAV and develop critical designs for Enhanced CAV and HCV demonstration systems incorporating flight-ready hypersonic technologies.

After a Phase I evaluation of four competing CAV/HTV design proposals, Lockheed Martin received the sole Phase II contract in August 2004 to develop and build the HTVs for the Falcon program.

The initial HTV design (HTV-1) is to be flight tested using an existing booster in September 2007, and is planned to reach a speed of Mach 19 at 30-45 km (19-28 miles) altitude.
At the Arnold Engineering Development Center’s Tunnel 9 facility in White Oak, Md. mission-critical tests on the

TV-1 were completed in November 2005.

“The Tunnel 9 facility exactly duplicates the HTV-1 flight Reynolds number at Mach 10, and the large model size permits accurate flow field resolution…Tunnel 9 will provide the best quality data and the best return on the investment of test dollars and effort,” said Dr. Peter Erbland, the AFRL Air Vehicles scientific advisor.

Phase II will execute an integrated plan to evolve both CAV and HTV designs and mature associated critical technologies.

This task will mature key enabling technologies applicable to both the Enhanced CAV and the reusable HCV design.

Extensive analytical and experimental effort will be conducted to bring a suite of these technologies to flight-readiness (TRL = 6). The HTV design will be evolved further and performance predictions made based on the revised design.

The CAV, Enhanced CAV, and HTV demonstrator preliminary and critical designs will be developed and risk mitigation plans enforced for all flight experiments planned.

Coordination and information exchange between SLV and HTV contractors will take place during Phase II to integrate the physical and functional characteristics of the SLV and Enhanced CAV in preparation for an integrated SLV/Enhanced CAV flight test in Phase III.

The government’s decision to progress from Phase II to Phase III will, in part, be based on the delivered Phase II products which best address the below combination of information or events to meet the stated objectives:

  1. Successful flight demonstration of an affordable, responsive booster SLV.
  2. Successful 3,000 nautical mile, 800-second flight-test of the CAV demonstration system with a simulated unitary penetrator payload.
  3. An Enhanced CAV critical design that will demonstrate a 9,000 nautical mile, 3000 second mission capability.
  4. A HCV demonstrator critical design that incorporates at least three hypersonic technologies identified in Phase I; these three technologies will be developed to at least TRL = 6.

Phase III – Weapon System Demonstrations (3rd Quarter 2007 – 2009) Back to the top

Phase III will consist of a single task identified as Weapon System Demonstrations.

The objective is to flight-test an integrated SLV/Enhanced CAV system, and flight-test Enhanced CAV and HCV demonstrators to validate system and technology performance.

Phase III will be performed over a 30-month period during which the Enhanced CAV will be flown integrated with the SLV.

The CAV payload flown in the integrated CAV/SLV flight demonstration may be scaled relative to an operational CAV commensurate with the capabilities of the SLV flight demonstration system.

The balance of the Phase III effort will focus on demonstration of reusable technologies that are considered key to enabling future development of a hypersonic cruise vehicle.

Many of these same reusable technologies are expected to benefit Enhanced CAV designs as well. Key technologies will be integrated into an HCV demonstrator and flight-tested using a similar test approach taken in demonstrating the CAV.

Powered as well as unpowered versions of the HCV demonstrator may be tested to permit technology validation for longer duration flights and assessment of the implications of integrating propulsion systems with the vehicle design.