WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Critical cargo needed around the world could be delivered with the help of reusable rockets, like SpaceX's Starship, in the next decade.
It all depends on the outcome of research and development at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
Rocket Cargo is the name of the Department of the Air Force's fourth Vanguard program that will "determine the viability and utility of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics."
The program will be spearheaded by the U.S. Space Force, which has a strong presence in Florida.
Capabilities being researched include the ability to land rockets on non-traditional materials and surfaces, engineering a rocket cargo bay, rapid loading and landing a rocket safely near personnel and structures.
“The Air Force has provided rapid global mobility for decades and Rocket Cargo is a new way the Department can explore complementary capabilities for the future. Vanguard initiatives lead to game-changing breakthroughs that preserve our advantage over near-peer competitors," Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth said, in part.
According to a press release, the AFRL is assessing rocket capabilities across the commercial vendor base in an effort to quickly transport Department of Defense materiel to ports around the globe.
“Once realized, Rocket Cargo will fundamentally alter the rapid logistics landscape, connecting materiel to joint warfighters in a fraction of the time it takes today. In the event of conflict or humanitarian crisis, the Space Force will be able to provide our national leadership with an independent option to achieve strategic objectives from space," Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. Raymond added.
The Air Force says delivering cargo via a rocket is not a new concept, but is something that has been historically avoided due to high costs and the restraint of small payload capabilities.
While the companies being reviewed by the Rocket Cargo program have yet to be announced, commercial space giant SpaceX is, in theory, the poster child for reusable rockets.
Its Falcon 9 two-stage rocket has been launched 120 times to transport both people and payloads into space successfully. Then there's Starship, the formerly-explosive prototype spacecraft that stuck its landing for the first time in April.
There's still more testing needed for the reusable transportation system, but the clock is ticking. Starship is slated to carry a group of everyday people into space in 2023 thanks to a Japanese billionaire footing the bill.
SpaceX has competition on the reusable rocket front with Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket gaining traction and Sierra Nevada Corp pushing its Dream Chaser winged spacecraft into the spotlight.
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