It's hard to get into space, but to get there on short notice and do it again a few weeks later? That's a big question. Nevertheless, DARPA demands this as part of its Launch Challenge, which was announced today at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado. The teams have to prepare a payload into space with only a few days to prepare and then do it again soon – if they want to win the top prize of 10 million dollars.
The idea is to help small space companies under what DARPA sees as the future, to promote launch conditions in commercial and military situations. The ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, or fail if not, will be critical in the near-term start-up ecosystem.
That's the way it will be. First, the teams must pre-qualify to show that they have the opportunity to accomplish this type of task through a written explanation of their abilities and the acquisition of a license. Qualifying teams are rewarded with $ 400,000 each.
As soon as a group of teams is established (closing applications in December), DARPA will wait for its time … and then start the launches on them sometime in the second half of 201
How big is the payload? Does it have to be powered? Cooled? Does he need or supply data? All this will remain a mystery until weeks before the start. By comparison, most launches are scheduled for years and completed months before the day. However, DARPA will provide an "example orbit" in 2019 so you have an idea of what to expect.
Teams will not know where to start until just before the start. "Attendees should assume that a current or future FAA-licensed spaceport can be used, and construction site services are projected to be rigorous – primarily a concrete slab with bolted fixtures and generator or shore power." Basically, you should be prepared be rough.
Each team that successfully launches the payload into the Earth's near-earth orbit will receive $ 2 million. But they will not be able to rest on their laurels: The next launch with similarly mysterious conditions will take place within two weeks of the first one.
Teams that put their second payload into orbit qualify properly for the grand prize – they are ranked by "mass, time, and accuracy." First place is $ 10 million, second place $ 9 million and third place $ 8 million. Not bad.
More information will be available on May 23 when DARPA will hold a meeting and Q & A. In the meantime, you can read the competition rules summary here (PDF), and if you happen to be a rocket scientist or head of a commercial space outfit, you can sign up here for the challenge.