An artist’s conceptions shows multiple rockets lifting off from an oceanside launch complex. (DARPA Illustration)More

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration are winnowing down 18 pre-qualified teams for the DARPA Launch Challenge, a competition with a $10 million grand prize that’s aimed at boosting America’s rapid-response launch capabilities.

The challenge, modeled after the autonomous-vehicle races that DARPA sponsored more than a decade ago, will require teams to send

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