Space Force seeks commercial satellites to carry tech for on-orbit experiments

STEP 2.0 will fill an existing gap in the Space Test Program’s ability to procure and launch science-and-technology payloads, according to the Space Force.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Space Force’s acquisition arm is looking for commercially developed space vehicles that can host experimental payloads and allow the Defense Department to conduct tests of emerging technologies on orbit. 

According to a request for proposal published on on Thursday, Space Systems Command plans to establish a contract vehicle for its Space Test Experiments Platform (STEP) 2.0 effort. Over the next decade, the service plans to award multiple awards to vendors able to provide platforms for the Space Force’s science-and-technology experiments.

“The DoD Space Test Program is looking to leverage all the successes from industry to provide proven spacecraft to host the DoD’s next generation of space technologies,” Lt. Col. Brian Shimek, director of the service’s Space Test Program (STP), said in a statement. 

Originally founded in the 1960s, the Space Test Program supports the entire Defense Department and other government agencies by conducting end-to-end demonstrations of novel space technologies. Now managed by Space Systems Command, the STP has executed over 300 missions to advance new capabilities, according to the Space Force.


STEP 2.0 will fill an existing gap in the program’s ability to procure and launch S&T payloads, according to the Space Force. The service especially hopes to use proven space vehicles developed by the commercial space industry — part of a larger ongoing theme in the Space Force to partner with the commercial sector.

“​​Working in collaboration with government agencies, industry, and academia, the program aims to demonstrate promising technologies to aid the warfighter,” a Space Force press release stated. “By leveraging commercially developed spacecrafts and fostering industry partnerships, STEP 2.0 aims to accelerate the development of cutting-edge space technologies over the next decade for the Department of Defense and their mission partners.”

Under the indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract vehicle, vendors will be able to bid on efforts over a 10-year period to build satellites, integrate them with payloads equipped with experimental technologies and provide ground support operations.

The contract aims to provide STP with rapid access to space in order to conduct the demonstrations on a range of platforms — from smaller CubeSats to Class 2 space vehicles, according to the solicitation. The service is also targeting satellites for low-Earth and geosynchronous orbits.

Responses to the RFP are due July 12, and the first delivery order is scheduled for September.

Mikayla Easley

Written by Mikayla Easley

Mikayla Easley reports on the Pentagon’s acquisition and use of emerging technologies. Prior to joining DefenseScoop, she covered national security and the defense industry for National Defense Magazine. She received a BA in Russian language and literature from the University of Michigan and a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. You can follow her on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

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