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DARPA offers prizes for quicker liftoffs

DARPA Launch Challenge
The DARPA Launch Challenge is designed to provide more incentives for the development of flexible, responsive launch systems. (DARPA Illustration)prize

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Almost 15 years after a $10 million competition gave a boost to private-sector spaceflight, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is kicking off another launch contest with a $10 million grand prize.

The DARPA Launch Challenge — officially unveiled here today at the 34th Space Symposium — won’t send people to the edge of space, as the Ansari X Prize did in 2004. But it will introduce some new twists for the launch industry.

Contest rules call for teams to be given the full details about where and when they’ll launch, what kind of payload they’ll launch, plus what kind of orbit the payload should be launched into, only a couple of weeks in advance. And that’s just half the job. Teams will be required to execute another launch, from a different site, no more than a couple of weeks later.

The precise time frames for giving advance notice are still under discussion, but “I would measure the time scale in days,” Todd Master, program manager for the challenge at DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, told reporters today.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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