The Space Force has called upon Colorado-based Astroscale to build and deliver a prototype space vehicle able to refuel some of the U.S. military’s satellites while in orbit, the service’s acquisition arm announced Tuesday.
Under the $25.5 million other transaction authority agreement, Astroscale will deliver a “servicing vehicle prototype” by 2026 that “leverages a refueling technology advanced by previous industry/Government partnerships, delivering fuel to client vehicles, and permitting them to remain on-station and on-mission,” per the announcement.
Space Systems’s Command’s (SSC) assured access to space directorate is managing the contract with the Space Development Corps’ Space Enterprise Consortium, an office focused on connecting space startups with OTA opportunities at the Pentagon.
The contract comes as U.S. Space Command continues to send the demand signal to the Space Force and other government agencies about its need for more maneuverable satellites. The command wants to shift towards “dynamic space operations” — the ability to easily, continuously and quickly maneuver satellites in-orbit over long periods of time and distance.
“What we’re trying to articulate as a requirement to Space Force is, we need to be able to have sustained space maneuver for those platforms that we deem are the kind that need to be dynamic, as opposed to positional,” Spacecom Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. John Shaw said in July during a webinar hosted by the Mitchell Institute.
Due to a finite amount of fuel, current satellites are constrained in their designs and have limited mobility once they are launched. Without a way to refuel in orbit, satellites and their launch vehicles are limited in size, weight and cost, a Space Force release noted. An inability to refuel also forces mission planners and operators to move spacecraft in a manner that does not waste their fuel or shorten their lifespans — thereby restricting their full range of capability.
Spacecom has set a deadline to have more maneuverable satellites in orbit by 2028, with plans to conduct a demonstration by 2026.
SSC did not immediately respond to DefenseScoop about whether the prototype that will be delivered by Astroscale will play a role in the upcoming demonstration.
“The Space Force is ready to respond to the unquestionable need identified by our warfighters and industry is enthusiastic to help us address the challenges of the new space age we find ourselves in,” Col. Joyce Bulson, program manager for the Space Force’s space mobility and logistics capabilities, said in a statement. “I’m excited for the opportunities to both rise to the challenges set forth by our warfighters and advance our nation’s space capabilities.”