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New Family Of Space-Launch Vehicles Likely To Meet National Security Needs

By | August 21, 2006

      With no breakthroughs likely in space propulsion or rocket design in the near future, a new family of space-launch vehicles developed for military payloads should satisfy all projected national security needs through 2020, according to a panel convened to examine the program.

      However, the federal government likely will be the sole user of these launch vehicles and therefore will need to pay remaining life-cycle costs, according to the final report of the National Security Space Launch Requirements Panel.

      In 1994, the National Space Transportation Policy laid the framework for government agencies to maintain strong launch systems and infrastructure while modernizing space transportation capabilities and encouraging cost reductions.

      More than a decade later, through combined investment from the Department of Defense (DOD) and industry, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family of space-launch vehicles (Atlas V and Delta IV) are maturing into reliable, state-of-the-art space transportation systems, according to the panel’s report. Atlas is made by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]. The Boeing Co. [BA] makes the Delta.

      In January 2004, Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to establish a panel of experts with extensive space launch and operations backgrounds to address the future national security space launch requirements and the means of meeting those requirements. DOD selected the RAND Corp. National Defense Research Institute to provide analytical support to the panel in its year-long deliberations that began in May last year.

      The eight-member panel found that while the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle families remain early in their life cycles, both appear able to become “workhorse launch vehicles for the future.”

      However, the panel found the systems are not likely to attract the commercial payloads that were expected to help support the systems.

      The full report can be viewed at on the Web.

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