The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) intends to award two more contracts in the next few weeks to round out the team developing technology for a quick-turnaround, reusable first-stage booster rocket that could be launched, recovered and prepared for re-launch in no more than 48 hours.

The contracts will be part of the Future Responsive Access to Space Technologies (FAST) program –

a series of three ground experiments

the Air Force hopes will aid the development of future

responsive space vehicles.

AFRL and its partners will design, develop and test vehicle structures and guidance, control and operation elements.

The Air Force

likely will spend $40 million on the program over the next four years, AFRL program manager Capt. NidalJodeh said.

Of that amount, $28 million will be contracted out to partners, including $5.3 million in 2008; the other $12 million will pay for work done by the lab.

The program is not intended to be the first step toward any specific rocket to be built, Jodeh said. Rather, it is meant to work out technological issues that will allow the military to be more operationally responsive in the future.

“In my opinion, you could see these technologies in a wide variety of vehicles,” he said.

Lockheed Martin was awarded

$14 million to lead the team that will develop the airframe experiment, the company announced Nov. 12. That work

will be done at Lockheed Martin Space Systems‘ facilities in New Orleans and Denver, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.

s facilities in Ft. Worth, Texas, and Andrews Space

Inc.’s facilities in Seattle. They will work together to integrate composite structures, thermal protection systems and structural health monitoring systems technologies into a full-scale demonstration program.

The contracts to lead the other two experiments

– an avionics package and a ground control segment

– are expected to be awarded in the coming weeks, Jodeh said. The team of University of Dayton Research Institute in Ohio and Science Applications International Corp. signed on to the FAST program several months ago to provide systems integration and support and coordinate the work done by AFRL and the contractors.

Though simulating atmospheric re-entry is very difficult, AFRL will put the airframe through the wringer on the ground. The integrated airframe will be tested at the lab to replicate vehicle loads and heating conditions similar to those during re-entry, and parts of the airframe will be subjected to vibro-acoustic testing prior to integration, said Bobby Biggs, Lockheed Martin’s FAST program manager.