WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Sometimes you need to get cargo from A to B very fast and as far as the US military are concerned rockets are the answer.
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A while ago Elon Musk announced his plans to shuttle people from one side of the planet to the other in under 40 minutes using his SpaceX Mach 25 rockets. Then in 2018 the US Air Force (USAF) announced they’d like to transport cargo around the planet using similar systems, and now they’re advancing those plans in the hope they can transport up to 100 tons of cargo, which would be the equivalent of an entire C-17’s load, from one side of the planet to the other in minutes not the hours and days it can take today. And, if they can pull it off, it could change the logistics of war and disaster relief forever.
The USAF and United States Space Force (USSF) are looking at rockets as a way to send supplies to inaccessible war zones and disaster areas. Led by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Rocket Cargo Vanguard (RCV) will look at ways that commercial rockets can be adapted for logistical missions.
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One of the constants of military operations is the vital necessity of maintaining the supply lines. Even the most brilliant generals can still see their advancing forces grind to a halt because they’ve got too far ahead of the food, fuel, and ammunition needed to replenish them.
The problem is that in combat and disaster situations, there are often conditions that make logistics extremely difficult to establish and maintain. The objective may be very far away, in very rugged country, or may need supplies in a very short time. For this reason, planners are always on the lookout for very fast, flexible ways of getting the supplies out – hence rockets!
As far back as the 1960s, the US Department of Defense looked at rockets as one way to quickly move not only supplies, but troops to distant parts of the world. These vehicles were envisioned as large, reusable single-stage transports using revolutionary aerospike engines, which are now undergoing testing, that could lift into orbit and then make a controlled, powered landing at the destination.
However, the technology of the Apollo era simply wasn’t up to the task. Landing rockets were still in their infancy, the craft were extremely expensive, and the payloads were very small. Now the Rocket Cargo Vanguard program is taking another look at the idea, using large commercial rockets instead of government developed and operated vehicles.
For the project, AFRL will look at how to land such a rocket close to personnel and structures, as well as designing a cargo bay that can be quickly loaded and unloaded, and how to drop cargo from the rocket from the air. By using commercial rockets, like SpaceX’s, the goal is to cut costs and speed development of the military versions, which will be leased by the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) from private companies.
“The RCV initiative 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,” says Chief of Space Operations General John W. “Jay” Raymond. “Once realised, RCV will fundamentally alter the rapid logistics landscape, connecting material to joint war-fighters 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.”