Over its 30-year history, the U.S. Space Shuttle fleet flew 135 times and cost an estimated $209 billion. That works out to about one launch every three months, at a cost of $1.55 billion per launch — a far cry from NASA’s original goal of launching once per week, at a cost of $20 million per launch.
But you know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, hire DARPA to try again.
And DARPA — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — is trying again. Earlier this month, the Pentagon’s mad scientists division announced a competition it’s calling the “DARPA Launch Challenge”. A select group of three privately owned space companies will attempt to demonstrate that they have what it takes to put a small payload in space on very short notice, and at a very cheap price — as low as $2 million per mission. DARPA says its Launch Challenge aims to develop a capability for “on-demand, flexible, and responsive launch of small payloads” for the U.S. military.