WASHINGTON — The Defense Innovation Unit is seeking industry bids for a “tactically responsive space” mission where a launch provider would get  only 24 hours’ notice to get a payload off the ground.

In a solicitation posted Aug. 24, DIU asks companies to submit proposals by Sept. 7 for a responsive space mission named Victus Haze. Companies selected for this mission would be responsible to deploy an imaging satellite to orbit to inspect a potential threat. 

DIU and the U.S. Space Force are funding this project to “address on-orbit threats to U.S. space systems with responsive end-to-end solutions,” said the request. “The U.S. Space Force is exploring the ability of commercial providers to rapidly deliver both launch and on-orbit operations infrastructure.”

The Space Force in budget documents said it plans to spend $60 million over the next two years on tactically responsive space demonstrations. Separately from the mission it’s planning with DIU, the Space Force this month is starting a Small Business Innovation Research program focused on tactically responsive space.

DIU, based in Silicon Valley, is a DoD organization created to bring commercial technologies into military programs. 

The Space Force this year plans to launch a responsive space mission called Victus Nox, where a small satellite built by Millennium Space will launch to orbit on a Firefly Aerospace rocket. 

Victus Nox and Victus Haze will seek to demonstrate U.S. capabilities to launch and start operating a satellite in days rather than the months and years it typically takes.

“Our partnership with DIU provides the right ecosystem, expertise, and mission focus to execute the Victus Haze mission and establish a robust partnership with commercial providers,” said Maj. Jason Altenhofen, deputy for the Space Safari program office under the Space Systems Command. 

DIU became an early supporter of commercial launch startups which were selected to launch experimental DoD payloads.

“We started a responsive launch program in 2017 with Space Systems Command to leverage low-cost, high-cadence launch,” said Steven Butow, the director of the space portfolio at DIU. 

Contract awards projected for fall 2023

DIU expects to award contracts for the Victus Haze mission in fall of 2023. 

The selected contractors would have 12 to 18 months to build and test the launch vehicle, satellite and ground segment. 

That would be followed by a “hot standby” phase during which the launch vehicle and satellite would be stored in preparation for a call-up to launch. 

Upon receiving a notice to launch, the companies would have just 24 hours to be ready to launch the satellite into the correct orbit. The final orbit will be provided with the notice to launch. 

The Space Force would expect the satellite to be ready for use within 48 hours of launch. 

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...