Military Embedded Systems

DARPA challenge seeks fast launch solutions


April 23, 2018

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

DARPA challenge seeks fast launch solutions
Guideline poster: DARPA

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced what it calls the "DARPA Launch Challenge," a program designed to promote rapid access to space within days instead of years. With the challenge entries, DARPA intends to implement fast launch capabilities and further incentivize industry to deliver launch solutions that are flexible and responsive.


“Current launch systems and payload development were created in an era when each space launch was a national event,” said Todd Master, the DARPA Launch Challenge program manager for DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “We want to demonstrate the ability to launch payloads to orbit on extremely short notice, with no prior knowledge of the payload, destination orbit, or launch site. The launch environment of tomorrow will more closely resemble that of airline operations — with frequent launches from a myriad of locations worldwide.”

In late 2019, teams that qualify to participate in the challenge will compete for prizes, with a top prize of $10 million. Teams will receive exact details on the payload in the days before each of the two launch events, having just a few weeks’ notice about the location of the first launch site. Once they successfully deliver their payload to low Earth orbit (LEO), competing teams will get details of the second launch site. Again, the participants will have only a few days to successfully deliver a second payload to LEO, for a chance at a prize; the final ranking for the top three prizes will depend on speed, payload, mass, and accuracy of orbit.

DARPA is coordinating closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) -- the agency responsible for granting licenses for commercial space launches -- throughout the challenge stages. Competitors seeking a spot in the DARPA Launch Challenge must obtain FAA licenses for all launch activity conducted while participating in the challenge.

A competitors’ day with representatives from DARPA and the FAA will be held in Los Angeles on May 23, 2018; to register or for additional information on entering the challenge, visit




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