The Air Force confirmed a strong interest in delivery of cargo around the world—by rockets—during an hourlong conference call with reporters on Friday. Military officials said they were elevating the cargo initiative to become the newest "Vanguard Program," indicating a desire to move the concept from an experimental state into an operational capability.
"This idea has been around since the dawn of spaceflight," said Dr. Greg Spanjers, an Air Force scientist and the Rocket Cargo Program Manager. "It's always been an intriguing idea. We've looked at it about every 10 years, but it's never really made sense. The reason we're doing it now is because it looks like technology may have caught up with a good idea."
Ars first reported about the "Rocket Cargo" program in the Air Force's budget request on Monday. As part of its $200 billion annual budget, the Air Force is seeking $47.9 million to leverage emerging commercial rocket capabilities to launch cargo from one location and land elsewhere on Earth.
During Friday's call, the officials explained what they're looking for in more depth. "Fundamentally, a rocket can get around the world in 90 minutes, and an airplane cannot," Spanjers said.
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As part of last week's federal budget rollout, a process during which the White House proposes funding levels for fiscal year 2022, the US Air Force released its "justification book" to compare its current request to past budget data. The 462-page book contains a lot of information about how the Air Force spends its approximately $200 billion budget.
For those tracking the development of SpaceX's ambitious Starship vehicle, there is an interesting tidbit tucked away on page 305, under the heading of "Rocket Cargo" (see .pdf). The Air Force plans to invest $47.9 million into this project in the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1.
"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 document states.
Starship, more than just an expensive ride. Quick military equipment delivery en route.