The U.S. Air Force have announced the designation of ‘Rocket Cargo’ as the fourth Vanguard programme as part of its transformational science and technology portfolio identified in the DAF 2030 Science and Technology strategy for the next decade.
Additionally, the U.S. Space Force was designated as the lead service for Rocket Cargo Vanguard, marking the service’s first such program.
“Under the Rocket Cargo Vanguard, the Air Force Research Laboratory will lead a science and technology effort to determine the viability and utility of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics, potentially expanding the portfolio of capabilities the USSF presents to combatant commanders. The Space and Missile Systems Center will serve as the Program Executive Officer.
AFRL will research and develop the unique aspects needed to leverage the new commercial capability for the DoD logistics mission. This includes the ability to land a rocket on a wide range of non-traditional materials and surfaces, including at remote sites. In addition, AFRL scientists and engineers will research the ability to safely land a rocket near personnel and structures, engineer a rocket cargo bay and logistics for rapid loading and unloading, and air drop cargo from the rocket after re-entry in order to service locations where a rocket or aircraft cannot possibly land.”
“The Air Force has provided rapid global mobility for decades and Rocket Cargo is a new way the Department can explore complementary capabilities for the future,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth.
“Vanguard initiatives lead to game-changing breakthroughs that preserve our advantage over near-peer competitors, and this latest addition is also a significant milestone as the first Vanguard evaluated under the Space Force’s oversight.”
Based on the advertised commercial capability and business objectives, the AFRL is currently assessing emerging rocket capability across the commercial vendor base, and its potential use for quickly transporting DoD materiel to ports across the globe.
“The Rocket Cargo Vanguard is a clear example of how the Space Force is developing innovative solutions as a service, in particular the ability to provide independent options in, from, and to space,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond.
“Once realized, Rocket Cargo will fundamentally alter the rapid logistics landscape, connecting materiel to joint warfighters in a fraction of the time it takes today. In the event of conflict or humanitarian crisis, the Space Force will be able to provide our national leadership with an independent option to achieve strategic objectives from space.”
Delivering cargo via rocket transportation is not a new concept.
Historically the high costs of launch have been prohibitive for a logistics-focused application, and the relatively small payload capability constrained the types of cargo that could be delivered, also limiting its suitability.
Today several commercial companies are quickly generating new opportunities by developing large rockets and reusable stages that safely land back on earth, expanding cargo capacity and dramatically reducing launch costs.