The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) successfully delivered the Long Duration Propulsion ESPA - 1 (LDPE-1) space vehicle, to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida on Dec 7, 2020. LDPE-1 is the first of two spacecraft on the Space Test Program 3 (STP-3) mission, slated to launch on February 26, 2021.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $22 million contract to produce a satellite bus able to carry multiple small payloads that will be used to demonstrate on-orbit refueling in geostationary orbit. 

The contract, announced July 8, was a sole-source award for a satellite called ROOSTER, short for Rapid On-orbit Space Technology Evaluation Ring. It is based on the Northrop Grumman ESPAStar payload adapter, a ring-shaped bus designed to ride as a secondary payload on national security space missions launched by United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. 

Northrop Grumman in 2017 won a contract to develop the so-called Long Duration Propulsive ESPA (LDPE) to host small payloads and experiments. The Space Force ordered three LDPE satellites, the first of which launched in December, with two more scheduled to launch on upcoming national security space missions. The LDPE program was recently renamed ROOSTER.

The new contract is for a 2026 delivery of a ROOSTER “multi-manifest rideshare satellite supporting operational and prototype missions in a geostationary orbit and maturing technology needed to conduct on-orbit refueling for future missions,” said the announcement.

The Space Force nicknamed the smallsat ring “the freight train to space” that can insert smallsats into geosynchronous orbit or host dedicated payloads on the ring itself until test completion. The ROOSTER satellites would primarily operate in GEO but the Space Force said cislunar, medium Earth orbit, and to a lesser extent low Earth orbit are also being considered.

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...