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SMC Test Wing sets new record with C-17A drop

AirLaunch Drop Test Article is released from an altitude of 32,000 feet from a C-17A, marking it the largest single object dropped from the aircraft. 
(Insert) The simulated rocket is being released from the fuselage of the C-17A. The photo is taken from an onboard camera inside the aircraft.

AirLaunch Drop Test Article is released from an altitude of 32,000 feet from a C-17A, marking it the largest single object dropped from the aircraft. (Insert) The simulated rocket is being released from the fuselage of the C-17A. The photo is taken from an onboard camera inside the aircraft.

AirLaunch Drop Test Article exits a C-17 at 32,000 feet, during a late-July test.  (Air Force photo by Jim Shryne)

AirLaunch Drop Test Article exits a C-17 at 32,000 feet, during a late-July test. (Air Force photo by Jim Shryne)

AirLaunch Drop Test Article exits a C-17 at 32,000 feet, during a late-July test.  (Air Force photo by Jim Shryne)

AirLaunch Drop Test Article exits a C-17 at 32,000 feet, during a late-July test. (Air Force photo by Jim Shryne)

LOS ANGELES AFB, CA -- A government and industry test team broke their own record in late July by releasing a full-scale simulated 72,000-pound rocket from an unmodified C-17A aircraft at the operational launch altitude of 32,000 feet and an air speed of 200 knots.

This feat marked the largest single object to be dropped from that particular type of aircraft since June, when a 65,000-pound simulated rocket was released in a similar test.

The tests were conducted as part of the Falcon Small Launch Vehicle Program. Members of the test team were comprised from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center's Space Development and Test Wing (formerly SMC Detachment 12), the Air Force Flight Test Center, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and AirLaunch Limited Liability Corporation.

The combined government and industry team worked to accurately predict the performance of AirLaunch's 65.8- feet-long simulated QuickReachâ„¢ rocket to assure crew and system safety.

Administered by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and SMC, this program's goal is to develop a vehicle that can launch a 1,000-pound satellite to low earth orbit for less than $5 million within 24 hours of notice.

This most recent record-breaking drop was third in a series of envelope expansion tests to verify the ability of the C-17 to safely deliver a full-scale, full-weight rocket to its operational launch altitude. This drop used an aircraft from the 62nd Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Wash., to support the test flown by the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif.

By using three separate C-17 aircraft in the drop tests, the team has demonstrated that any C-17 can be used for these air launch drops and ultimately the SLV program, according to Space Development and Test Wing officials. These tests may lead to a new spacelift role for the C-17 and a new asset for Air Force Space Command - the aircraft could potentially deliver troops and humanitarian aid one day and launch a satellite the next.

The Falcon SLV Program is developing operational responsive space launch vehicles as called for in the U.S. Space Transportation Policy. Responsive space would allow the government to react quickly and use small satellites equipped with sensors to monitor and provide communication for urgent military needs.

"Having a quick reaction launch system that can launch specialized small satellites will provide the warfighter with real-time data and communication during time-urgent situations," said Dr. Steve Walker, DARPA program manager. "This test also demonstrates that small companies can successfully work with government agencies to produce low cost, innovative solutions for the warfighter."

DARPA has requested SMC and the Space Development and Test Wing continue its support of the test program in the next phase.

The next major milestone will be an initial critical design review in November. If successful, the program will continue with flight tests as early as next year.

The SMC test team consists of Dale Shell, test manager; Maj. Gregg Leisman, Test Pilot School graduate and flight test engineer; Capt. Timothy Ferlin, test engineer; and test support from 2nd Lt. William Palm.

The SMC Space Development and Test Wing's mission is to serve as the primary provider of launch capability, spaceflight and on-orbit operations demonstrating transformation technologies for the American warfighter. Its legacy continues in advancing the development of new space technology and spacelift capability.