An artist's rendering of DARPA's ALASA program

An artist's rendering of DARPA's ALASA program DARPA

It's Becoming Too Expensive for the Military to Go Into Space

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar says the national security community is facing a crisis caused by the spiraling cost of sending military assets into orbit. By Kedar Pavgi

Launching military assets into space – a “core element of national security” – is becoming too expensive and bureaucratic and could render the Pentagon’s space program “ineffective,” warns the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"I think we're in the middle of a self-inflicted surprise in some senses in space today, it’s a very different kind of surprise but it’s one that is rendering us ineffective and putting us in a place where we simply cannot afford to be," DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said Monday at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech 2014 conference.

Per-launch costs have soared into the tens of millions of dollars, and take years to plan and execute. The biggest barriers to cost-effective military spaceflight: a shortage of launch locations, and an inability to use existing infrastructure and takeoff points.

"There's also something going on inside the national security community in space that's actually quite troubling,” Prabhakar said. “That has to do with how slow and costly it is for us today to do anything we need to do on orbit for national security purposes.

(Related: Why the Military Needs Commercial Satellite Technology)

Prabhakar said the agency is investing in programs like the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program, which could bring the price of taking cargo into outer space down from $30,000 a pound to $10,000.  The agency is working with scientists and engineers to make the construction and maintenance of satellites more cost-effective.

“As we develop those capabilities at [geosynchronous orbit], we believe we’re going to start changing the fundamental dynamics, and the economics, of what’s going to be possible with satellite capability,” Prabhakar said.

Listen to Prabhakar’s full speech below at 16:00.