WASHINGTON — A mobile satellite integration facility designed by the space propulsion startup Agile Space won a contract from the U.S. Space Force to further develop the concept. 

The Space Force’s technology arm SpaceWERX awarded the company a Small Business Innovation Research Phase 2 contract for its Mobile Payload Processing Center. 

Agile Space was one of 19 companies that received SBIR Phase 2 contracts under the so-called Tactically Responsive Space Challenge, a program seeking private-sector technologies to help accelerate space missions. 

The 19 winners split about $34 million in program funding. 

Agile Space, based in Durango, Colorado, raised $13 million last year and one of its investors is Lockheed Martin Ventures. 

Expedite satellite integration

 The mobile payload processing center is designed to integrate satellites on-demand and get them ready for launch. 

The unit is built in a 40-foot-long shipping container that fits on a flatbed truck and is expandable to provide over 500 square feet of safe cleanroom working space. “It provides a generously sized clean, safe, and secure operational footprint for multiple operators to simultaneously work on large payloads,” said Kara Grubis, Agile’s vice president of engineering.

She said the mobile unit was originally designed to support rocket engine testing services in the Mojave desert. “We’ve found they’re highly adaptable,” said Grubis.

 Capt. George Eberwine, program manager in the Space Safari program office that sponsored the Tactically Responsive Space Challenge, said the mobile payload processing center “could provide the U.S. Space Force flexibility in times when traditional solutions might be compromised.”

Space Force officials have raised concerns about a shortage of infrastructure to process satellites and prepare them for launch, creating a bottleneck that slows down the launch pace.

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...