Darpa, we have a problem.The Pentagon's way-out research agency has been trying for a while now to make space launches a whole lot cheaper and easier. But one of Darpa's main space programs -- the Responsive Access, Small Cargo and Affordable Launch Vehicle (RASCAL) project -- is "not going very well," agency director Tony Tether has confessed. Darpa will "re-evaluate the program following a design review this autumn," reports Defense News.The RASCAL concept involves a jet-powered carrier aircraft that would fly beyond the atmosphere at a steep angle before releasing an expendable rocket designed to carry a satellite payload to its desired orbit. The aircraft would be equipped with an injection system that brings oxygen and water into its engines to compensate for the lack of air at extremely high altitudes.During 2002's DarpaTech conference, RASCAL program manager Preston Carter promised flight tests in 2005. Now, it's pretty clear that's not happening. And, if and when RASCALs do come down the pike, they ain't gonna be cheap.According to Defense News, RASCAL-designer Space Launch Corporation says "has not yet determined the precise cost."Darpa has run into cost growth problems with the RASCAL program in the past, because the carrier aircraft turned out to be more expensive than anticipated. Early in the program, the estimated cost of developing the aircraft was $88 million, but the total program cost now is estimated to pass the $100 million mark in 2005 with significant funding still needed to carry through to a flight demonstration.
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