Seattle (CBS SEATTLE) — A new set of Boeing-built fighter jets may soon launch U.S. military satellites into orbit.

The U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) gave Boeing a $30.6 million contract in March to attach a launch vehicle to the bottom of F-15E Strike Eagles. The 7.3-meter DARPA Airborne Satellite Launch Vehicle would be dropped from the jet at an altitude of 40,000 feet, and onboard satellites would then be propelled into orbit, reports.

Boeing officials say that the launch system has the potential to cut the cost of launching small satellites (100 pounds or less) by 66 percent. The move would also allow the U.S. military to more quickly launch satellites into space because they would not need to wait for a space vehicle launch.

“We developed a cost-effective design by moving the engines forward on the launch vehicle,” Steve Johnston, Boeing’s director of advanced space exploration, said in a statement to “With our design, the first and second stages are powered by the same engines, reducing weight and complexity.”

The DARPA contract with Boeing also seeks to develop a launch vehicle for much larger satellites and payloads to be sent into orbit via military aircraft. The agency’s Experimental Spaceplane project, XS-1, wants to develop a vehicle that can launch 3,000 to 5,000-lb payloads into space.


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