The Air Force wants to know what kind of on-orbit services the commercial space industry will be able to offer the military in 2025.
The service’s Space and Missile Systems Center issued a request for information Oct. 25 asking industry what innovative solutions they will be able to bring to bear on a number of topics, from hosted payloads or ridesharing to the on orbit maneuvering of satellites, in the five-year period starting in 2025.
A focus of the solicitation is the fact that because space is an increasingly contested domain, the Air Force can no long rely on expensive, exquisite satellites without expecting some form of interference.
“This environment allowed for the acquisition of long-life, highly capable, and expensive space systems that required high reliability and the motivation to strive for near 100% mission success. Looking forward, all components of space weapon systems, including [national security space] satellites, ground, and launch elements will be required to successfully support warfighter needs under demanding hostile environments,” the request read.
Air Force leaders have said space systems need to be more resilient in one of three ways: either through numbers, durability or the ability to repair or replace damaged units.
As a result, the Department of Defense is adapting to this new reality with three strategies.
The first is evident in the Space Development Agency, which is adding resiliency through numbers. By launching hundreds of small satellites into Low Earth Orbit that can supplement, back up or replace exquisite satellites, the agency hopes to make it more difficult for adversaries to disable or deter the United States’ space capabilities.
A second strategy concerns the ground segment, where the Defense Department is trying to replace so-called stove-piped systems with a common ground system with enhanced cyber resilience and a disseminated data infrastructure.
The department is making progress toward these two philosophies, but according to the request, the United States has failed to make progress on the third piece: innovation with the launch, maneuver and transport segment of the national security space architecture.
In the 2025-2030 time period, the Air Force is looking for on orbit servicing capabilities that complement that SDA’s proposed constellations. In particular, service is interested in innovative ways to maneuver on orbit satellites and hosted payloads.
The request will feed into the National Security Launch Architecture study, which will inform the Air Force’s future launch requirements.
The request comes on the heels of significant advancements in the commercial development of on orbit servicing capabilities.
Earlier in October, SpaceLogistics, a Northrop Grumman subsidiary, launched their first space vehicle capable of extending the life of an existing on orbit satellite by docking with it and providing supplemental propulsion. That same vehicle can also be used to move the satellite to a new orbit, if necessary. In addition, the working on a follow-up vehicle with robotic arms capable of repairing on orbit satellites as well. The Air Force has issued a study contract to SpaceLogistics through the Space Enterprise Consortium to look at providing those services to DoD satellites.
DARPA is also working on building its own satellite mechanic space vehicle it hopes to launch in 2022.
Responses to the solicitiation are due Nov. 19 and SMC said they will hold an industry day in early December.