WASHINGTON — The Air Force Research Laboratory awarded a $72 million contract to Advanced Space to develop an experimental spacecraft to monitor deep space, far beyond Earth’s orbit. 

The experiment, led by AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, was previously known as the Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS) and was recently renamed Oracle. 

“The name was chosen to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Apollo program and the U.S. Space Force’s commitment to support NASA as they return to the moon,” said AFRL.

The Oracle spacecraft is projected to launch in late 2025 and will conduct two years of on-orbit experiments.  

“Our primary goals for the program are to advance techniques to detect previously unknown objects through search and discovery, to detect small or distant objects, and to study spacecraft positioning and navigation in the XGEO realm,” said James Frith, the principal investigator. 

XGEO refers to the space beyond geosynchronous orbit out to the moon. Oracle will operate in the vicinity of Earth-moon Lagrange Point 1, about 200,000 miles from Earth. The GEO belt, by comparison, is about 22,000 miles above Earth.

An additional goal of Oracle is to help mature AFRL’s green propellant technology. “While there are no specific plans yet to refuel Oracle, AFRL wants to encourage civil and commercial development of on-orbit refueling services,” said Frith. 

Col. Jeremy Raley, the director of AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, said Oracle is an important experiment to understand the cislunar environment. 

“Like NASA we’re going to be operating in those same spaces. And we’re going to be looking for smart ways to cooperate,” Raley said. Both NASA and DoD care about “domain awareness and understanding what’s going on out there.”

Advanced Space, based in Westminster, Colorado, operates the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) experiment launched in June as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...