U.S. Air Force Aims To Use Rockets For Quick Global Cargo Delivery
On June 4th, the US Air Force announced its plan to use commercial rockets for airdropping cargo anywhere around the globe.
The service press release announced the designation of Rocket Cargo as the fourth Vanguard program as part of its transformational science and technology portfolio identified in the DAF 2030 Science and Technology strategy for the next decade.
Additionally, the U.S. Space Force was designated as the lead service for Rocket Cargo Vanguard, marking the service’s first such program.
The funding that’s request for the program is $47.9 million, in order to fund a new transport concept for sending supplies and equipment across the Earth in under one hour.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) will lead a science and technology effort to determine the viability and utility of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics.
The AFRL aims to research and develop unique technologies needed for military rocket cargo missions.
“This includes the ability to land a rocket on a wide range of non-traditional materials and surfaces, including at remote sites,” the laboratory says. “In addition, AFRL scientists and engineers will research the ability to safely land a rocket near personnel and structures, engineer a rocket cargo bay and logistics for rapid loading and unloading, and air drop cargo from the rocket after re-entry in order to service locations where a rocket or aircraft cannot possibly land.”
AFRL is eyeing rockets capable of carrying a payload of between 30,000kg to 100,000kg – a bit more than Boeing C-17 strategic transports, which can carry 77,500kg payloads.
The Rocket Cargo programme aims to benefit from NASA’s Human Landing System programme.
That programme awarded SpaceX a contract, worth up to $2.89 billion, in April 2021 to land US astronauts on the surface of the moon using a version of its Starship.
There is potential in rocket technology proposed by all three bidders on that programme. In addition to contract winner SpaceX, moon landing system bids were received from Blue Origin and Dynetics.
“These rockets have to have the capability to do an austere landing and unload the cargo,” Greg Spanjers, AFRL Rocket Cargo programme manager said. “If they can land in those places, we’re interested in knowing to what extent we can extend that to a larger range of terrain so that we can do immediate cargo transports to basically anywhere on the planet.”
AFRL aims to integrate standard Pentagon cargo into a rocket payload fairing with minimal changes to its logistics system.
”For cargo accommodation we are focused on smartly integrating DoD-standard intermodal containers onto commercial rockets, so as to allow transfer between different shipping modes without slowing down to repackage,” AFRL said. “If the Vanguard is successful, we can expect DoD will be interested in shipping everything that we transport by air today, which could certainly include volatile material such as fuel and munitions resupply.”
This is a big chance for the US Space Force, which so far has done nothing worth mentioning.
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