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USAF and Elon Musk’s plans to transport cargo by rocket anywhere in the world in one hour revealed

The US Air Force has revealed details about its ambitious plans for a space launch rocket which could deliver cargo weighing up to 100 tons to anywhere in the world within an hour.

The service, working in partnership with Elon Musk‘s SpaceX, wants to carry out an end-to-end test of the Rocket Cargo program by the end of next year.

If successful, it would see cargo and personnel of the equivalent load of a C-17 being transported at lightning speed. 

The US Air Force has revealed details about its ambitious plans for a space launch rocket which could deliver cargo weighing up to 100 tons to anywhere in the world within an hour. Pictured: an Air Force briefing slide

US Army General Stephen Lyons, who is head of Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), previously announced partnerships with Elon Musk's SpaceX

US Army General Stephen Lyons, who is head of Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), previously announced partnerships with Elon Musk’s SpaceX 

The plans were included in the proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year which requests nearly $48million in additional funding for the program, The Drive reported.

The sum is five times the funding the Air Force received for the program last year.

The Rocket Cargo program will be part of the service’s Vanguard Program which identifies advanced research and technology that could be of interest to the military.

Others in the program include the Skyborg initiative for an AI computer able to fly unmanned aircraft, the Golden Horde networked swarming munitions project and the Navigation Technology Satellite 3.

The budget document states: ‘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.

If successful, it would see cargo and personnel of the equivalent load of a C-17 (pictured) being transported at lightning speed

If successful, it would see cargo and personnel of the equivalent load of a C-17 (pictured) being transported at lightning speed

‘The Air Force is not investing in the commercial rocket development, but rather investing in the Science & Technology needed to interface the capability with DoD logistics needs, and extend the commercial capability to DoD-unique missions.’

US Army General Stephen Lyons, who is head of Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), previously announced partnerships with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and space design consultants Exploration Architecture Corporation to explore the idea.

Early designs in the Air Force’s plans appear to show a rocket with a similar appearance to SpaceX’s Starship which is being developed to carry cargo for commerical purposes.

The Air Force does not intend to invest directly into the rocket’s development but instead fund the science and technology needed to turn a rocket such as the Starship into a military craft.  

TRANSCOM and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) were the two commands which could make use of the Rocket Cargo, the Air Force believes.

Early designs in the Air Force's plans appear to show a rocket with a similar appearance to SpaceX's Starship (pictured)

Early designs in the Air Force’s plans appear to show a rocket with a similar appearance to SpaceX’s Starship (pictured)

One concept involves sending reusable rocket-boosted vehicles to extremely high altitudes within the atmosphere, landing at the sites where they are unloaded before they return to the initial departure point.

The budget also makes reference to ‘air drop capability’ indicating a possible interest in releasing payloads over a drop zone from space.

Being able to quickly deploy forces or equipment across the world could be hugely valuable to the military for both conflict and humanitarian missions.

But similar proposals have been explored since the 1950s without any success due to its technical difficulties. 

TRANSCOM and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) were the two commands which could make use of the Rocket Cargo, the Air Force believes

TRANSCOM and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) were the two commands which could make use of the Rocket Cargo, the Air Force believes

Among the potential issues are launching from the remote locations and the trouble concealing the launches from enemy attacks.

With a rocket booster full of fuel, it could also be a likely target for attacks. 

The huge cost of the missions could also be a troubling factor, with SpaceX currently estimating that a launch with a reusable Falcon 9 rocket costing $62mllion, although Musk hopes to bring that figure down to $2million.

A C-17 currently costs around $540,000 to be sent anywhere in the world, although flights can take up to 18 hours.

A recent effort by the US military to explore a space cargo concept was announced by the Pentagon in the 2000s.

Bosses optimistically said the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) plans would be achievable within a decade. 


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