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Kelly Space Patents Its Tow-Launch Technique

May 23, 1997|(Karen Kaplan)

San Bernardino-based Kelly Space & Technology Inc. received a U.S. patent for its technique for towing a reusable launch vehicle 45,000 feet into the air behind a modified Boeing 747, company executives said. Once the launch vehicle--known as the Eclipse Astroliner--is released from the tow line, it flies unpiloted up to 400,000 feet and releases up to two satellites, which climb the rest of the way to orbit with the help of traditional rocket boosters. The Eclipse vehicle then glides back to Earth to land on a traditional runway. Michael Kelly, KST's founder and chief executive, said a reusable vehicle such as the Eclipse could cut the cost of commercial satellite launches between 40% and 60%. The tow-launch technique is a key part of the Eclipse's low-cost design, in part because it eliminates the need for a launching pad. Kelly Space has an $89-million contract to launch 20 communications satellites for Motorola's Iridium project.

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