WASHINGTON — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is seeking information from small-lift launch providers on the capabilities of their vehicles. The agency is doing market research in preparation for a 2022 launch of a payload that “may be classified and may include sight sensitive components,” said the request for information issued by DARPA on Sept. 30.

DARPA spokesman Jared Adams told SpaceNews that the agency is considering new ways to acquire services from small launch providers and wants to take advantage of the growing availability of launch options. The agency has relied on the Air Force to arrange the launch of many of its satellite experiments but DARPA is now eyeing the possibility of buying launch services directly from suppliers.

“With the success of the recent R3D2 launch service contract, DARPA is interested in small launch service contracts for current and future technology development efforts,” said Adams. “With the growing number of dedicated small launch providers, it behooves DARPA to procure these services directly rather than going through a different agency.”

R3D2 is short for Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration, an experimental spacecraft Rocket Lab launched March 28. The payload will test the ability of small satellites to carry large deployable antennas needed to support high-bandwidth communications.

Responses to the RFI are due Oct. 18. According to the request, interested launch service providers will be expected to comply with all applicable licensing and safety requirements, and secure any required approvals. Additionally, the launch service provider will be expected to work with the payload manufacturer to resolve interface and processing issues.

DARPA gained experience working with small launch providers in recent prize challenges. Earlier this year it selected three launch vehicle developers to compete in early 2020 to demonstrate responsive launch capabilities. In April DARPA announced that Vector, Vox Space and a third unidentified company had qualified to participate in the DARPA Launch Challenge.

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...