The Air Force’s Christmas rocket isn’t real, but its cargo rocket program is

Ahead of Christmas this year, the Air Force Research Lab released a playful computer-generated video of a system it “developed” to help Santa deliver gifts to children around the world. While it’s clearly meant to help get people into the holiday spirit, just like with the “reveal” from a similar fictional Hypersleigh two years ago, the fictional Global Interconnected Flight Transport, or GIFT, isn’t that far from the very real concepts that the US Air Force and US Space Force are now exploring, primarily the program Rocket Cargo.

Rocket Cargo, which The war zone
was the first to report, is a new logistics concept that envisions being able to deliver up to 100 tonnes of freight and potentially personnel anywhere in the world in one hour.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) posted the GIFT video on social media yesterday. “After weeks of research, collaboration and test launches, the day has finally arrived … to present the new GIFT system from the North Pole!” reads an official Tweet.

GIFT is depicted as a rocket launched on the ground with the word “NOEL” written on its body along with the Air Force and Space Force logos, among others. The video then shows a group of them releasing their payloads of freebies.

the Hypertrain, which has a delta-wing plane shape reminiscent of the concepts of real manned and unmanned hypersonic flight vehicles, but with the addition of sleigh-shaped landing skids and a Christmas-themed paint job , is also making its appearance. A reference is also made to AFRL Traveling organizational monitoring assistant (ROSA), the laboratory game on the popular Elf on the shelf, which the lab said was involved in the Hypersleigh “testing”.

The GIFT is of course not a serious thing. The hypersleigh loaded with present is not either.

At the same time, the Hypersleigh reflected a very real interest by the Air Force in 2019 in potentially reusable manned and unmanned hypersonic aircraft that could meet a variety of different operational requirements. The service is still actively pursuing these kinds of capabilities. Just this week The war zone
reported on the latest details on the Air Force’s secret Mayhem project. Everything we have learned so far about Mayhem, which AFRL manages, points to a project to manufacture demonstrators to support the development of hypersonic aircraft capable of performing strike and intelligence, surveillance and warfare missions. acknowledgement.

As silly as the GIFT idea of ​​rockets raining gifts from space may seem, it also represents a very real field of study that AFRL, in cooperation with the Space Force and the US Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), currently studying. via Rocket Cargo. The basic idea would be to develop some kind of rocket-based logistics system to enable the rapid transport of payloads up to 100 tonnes, a fundamental requirement based on the maximum cargo load of a C-17A transport aircraft. Globemaster III, to any location. around the world in 60 minutes or less. How all this would be done, and done in a cost effective and otherwise practical manner, remains to be seen, as The war zone
has explored in depth in the past.

Either way, there is a clear commitment to this project, at least in the short term. Earlier this year, the Air Force Department, of which Space Force is a part, declared that this program was the fourth of his so-called “avant-garde” initiatives. She created this label to highlight priority projects. The other three Vanguards are the Skyborg program, which is developing an artificial intelligence-based “computer brain” and associated systems that will be able to operate semi-autonomous “loyal wing” type drones and non-combat air vehicles. Potentially Fully Autonomous Pilot (UCAV), as well as the Golden Horde Network Ammunition Project and the Satellite navigation technology 3 (NTS-3) advanced effort of the space navigation system.

The private sector has also expressed interest in participating in this effort. In October 2020, before the official creation of the Rocket Cargo or Space Force program, TRANSCOM had signed cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA) with the space launch company SpaceX and the space consulting company. XArc to help start work on similar logistics concepts. In October, Blue Origin, another space launch company, revealed that it was in talks with TRANSCOM on its own CRADA potential. Relevant Air Force Contract Documents said that the Rocket Cargo plan, at least for the moment, is “solely focused on the exploitation of commercial rocket capabilities as a leased service”.

So while AFRL is using GIFT to spread holiday cheer around the world might not be a thing, they are very interested in whether they can transform the idea of ​​sending other payloads. to places around the world in a relatively short period of time into a reality.

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