WASHINGTON — The Defense Innovation Unit announced March 21 it has signed an agreement with Firefly Aerospace to study the potential use of the company’s Elytra orbital vehicle for missions beyond geosynchronous Earth orbit.

The Pentagon’s commercial technology arm, DIU awarded Firefly a study contract that, once complete, could lead to as many as two flight demonstration missions in the region between GEO orbit and the moon, known as cislunar space.

The contract supports DIU’s Sinequone project that aims to deliver cost-effective, responsive access to cislunar space through both launch and orbital transfer services. 

“The Department of Defense must be poised to foster safe and secure commercial and civil growth in this region,” DIU said of cislunar space. 

Established in 2015, DIU acts as a bridge between the Department of Defense and the commercial tech sector. The project with Firefly comes on the heels of another space logistics project DIU announced March 20.

Deploying payloads in cislunar space

DIU’s Sinequone project is exploring the use of commercial launch and orbital transfer systems to deliver capabilities and assets to one or more orbits in cislunar space.  In response to the Sinequone solicitation in 2022, DIU received 112 solution briefs from 94 companies, said Nathan Gapp, DIU program manager. 

The agreement with Firefly “will enable the government to evaluate the technical feasibility and operational effectiveness of the company’s responsive launch and delivery capabilities,” said Gapp. “The demonstration will focus on the successful application of the  combined launch vehicle and orbit transfer vehicle technology and methodologies to meet the government’s goal of delivering the initial space vehicles to orbit within 18 months of approval to proceed.”

Under the contract, after the initial study, Firefly would deliver three to six orbital vehicles for one or more launches to orbits in cislunar space, with the goal of reducing the time to deliver for each subsequent mission.

Firefly also is under contract to the National Reconnaissance Office for a mission to deploy small payloads from the Elytra orbital vehicle.

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...