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3 Firms Selected For DARPA Competition—Report

Three companies that develop launch vehicles have made it to the DARPA competition in 2020 where they will be demonstrating capabilities of responsive launch. On April 10, at the 35th Space Symposium, DARPA announced that Vox Space, Vector, and another company have made it to the DARPA Launch Challenge. Vox Space is the subsidiary of Virgin Orbit that is incorporated by US. Virgin Orbit develops the air launch system – LauncherOne. The manager of the DARPA competition, Todd Master, said that as the dates of the competition would near, the unnamed company will announce its name. He added that at this moment they are not ready to reveal their identity.

Sources of industry said that the unnamed company is most probably Astra Space – a company that is developing a launch vehicle that last year has failed from Alaska two test launches. Master added two of the companies are using systems for ground launch and none of them have been able to place payloads into orbit yet which is very similar to Astra Space. The companies will attempt first to launch payloads into the orbit in the month of January or February in 2020.

The location and the launch window will be given to these companies 30 days before the competition. Every company that will place a payload into the orbit will get $2 million. After that, it will perform from another site, a second launch on short notice. The companies performing the second launch will get a first prize of $10 million, second prize of $9 million and third prize of $8 million. These companies will be given ranks on the basis of speed of the launch. Master said that DARPA is yet to develop an algorithm that is scoring. He added that other factors may include mass to orbit and orbital insertion accuracy.