Quick Reach was a low-cost space booster under development by AirLaunch LLC under an $11.3 million contract in Phase II of the Falcon program run by the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The program's goal was a booster able to loft small spacecraft for less than $5 million per launch, and with just 24-hour notice. The Air Force / DARPA selection of AirLaunch as one three Phase II winners enabled the company to move forward on engine development and air drop techniques. The goal was a flight test of the AirLaunch QuickReach booster in 2007. Initial tests of second stage ignition began in early May 2005. The first drop test from a USAF C-17 was successfully completed on 29 September 2005.
The QuickReach was a two-stage vehicle using propane and liquid oxygen. It utilized a very simple form of pressure-fed fuel supply. Instead of auxiliary high-pressure gas bottles or gas generators to maintain tank pressure, it used the vapor pressure of the propellants to expel them into the engine. The propane was heated before loading to create the correct vapor pressure. Tank structure was basically aluminum. The warmer propane section used a composite overwrap. The temperature difference of 170 deg F between the liquid oxygen and propane tanks was handled through use of a 2.5 cm vacuum gap on the propane side. External insulation was fiberglass. The engine chambers and nozzles were made of composite materials and ablatively cooled. The second stage engine was completely submerged in the propane tank of the first stage, a technique developed by Makeyev in the Soviet Union for compact submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Thrust of the first stage was 77,550 kgf, and 10,900 kgf for the second stage. The payload fairing had a mass of only 135 kg. Total ideal delta-V of the launch vehicle was 8,690 m/s, compared to the 7,800 m/s orbital velocity for the 185 km / 28 deg inclination target orbit. Thus total losses due to gravity and air drag were 890 m/s, 300 m/s less than for a ground-launched booster. The booster gained the equivalent of 180 m/s from the higher altitude and speed of the launch aircraft, and the other 120 m/s from lower drag and gravity losses.
A launch scenario would begin with the C-17 at level flight at 10 km altitude. It would then pitch up 6 to 8 deg while extending flaps and slowing to 350 kph EAS. The booster would be pulled out from the cargo aft doors by a combination of g-forces and a small pilot chute. Eight seconds after drop the booster is at a 65 degree angle. The motor ignites, and it recrosses the drop altitude 15 seconds after drop. By then the C-17 will have moved 400 m ahead of the booster, providing safe clearance as the rocket ascends into space. First-second stage separation would occur at 2,367 m/s at 49 km altitude and a dynamic pressure of 4.76 atmospheres, at 267 kph equivalent airspeed.
Subcontractors to AirLaunch included Gary Hudson's HMX (engines and tanks), Space Vector (avionics shelf), Delta Velocity (carbon fiber payload fairing), Universal Space Lines, and Pacific Scientific.
LEO Payload: 635 kg (1,399 lb) to a 185 km orbit at 28.00 degrees. Development Cost $: 11.300 million. Launch Price $: 5.000 million in 2005 dollars in 2006 dollars.
Status: In development.
Gross mass: 32,650 kg (71,980 lb).
Payload: 635 kg (1,399 lb).
Height: 19.80 m (64.90 ft).
Diameter: 2.46 m (8.07 ft).
Span: 2.46 m (8.07 ft).
Apogee: 185 km (114 mi).