The U.S. Air Force submitted its roughly $200 billion budget with an interesting line item. It wants to deliver 100 tons of payload anywhere on Earth in under an hour.
The 462-page behemoth lists this interesting line item on Page 305:
“The Department of the Air Force seeks to leverage the current multi-billion dollar commercial investment to develop the largest rockets ever, and with full reusability to develop and test the capability to leverage a commercial rocket to deliver AF cargo anywhere on the Earth in less than one hour, with a 100-ton capacity.”
The Air Force is budgeting $47.9 million for this capacity, which would be a significant ability to land 100 tons anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.
Although the budget document does not mention SpaceX by name, the only rocket that is fully reusable with a 100-ton capacity that could possibly meet the Air Force’s requirements is Elon Musk’s forthcoming SpaceX Starship.
To date, prototype versions of the Starship have flown nine times, with eight of those resulting in explosions.
The most recent test did have the desired result — the 16-story-tall rocket made it 33,000 feet up before belly-flopping and landing on its own power. It was a tremendous sight.
The Air Force’s use of SpaceX’s Starship is not to reach full orbit, but rather to quickly land heavy cargo payloads around the world.
The budget document explained that the $47.9 million will also cover “novel loadmaster designs to quickly load/unload a rocket, rapid launch capabilities from unusual sites, characterization of potential landing surfaces and approaches to rapidly improve those surfaces, adversary detectability, new novel trajectories, and an S&T investigation of the potential ability to air drop a payload after reentry.”
Such a launch system would give the Air Force the ability to move large amounts of cargo anywhere in the world but also might further infuriate the Russian space industry, which finds itself falling further and further behind.
Earlier Monday, Russia threatened to leave the International Space Station by 2025 if certain sanctions were not lifted.
Reuters reported that “Moscow was struggling to launch some of its satellites because of U.S. sanctions which meant Russia could not import certain microchip sets needed for its space programme.”
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said, “We have more than enough rockets but nothing to launch them with.”
“We have spacecraft that are nearly assembled but they lack one specific microchip set that we have no way of purchasing because of the sanctions,” Rogozin continued.
The U.S. and European Union placed sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Also, cyberattacks and election meddling have brought additional sanctions.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CNN last week that if Russia abandons the space station, it could start a new space race.
“If Russia pulls out, it would not be good,” Nelson said simply.
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