The U.S. Space Force is considering a variety of ways to rapidly respond to changing threats.
One option is storing a satellite like Victus Nox, the satellite Millennium Space Systems is supplying for the Tactically Responsive Space-3 mission, on the ground. On-orbit satellite spares are another possibility.
“Then also we always have the option to purchase commercial data or commercial assets at the time of need,” Space Force Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Space Safari materiel leader, said April 12 during a news briefing at Millennium headquarters in El Segundo, California. “We’re definitely still looking into all of the different options.”
Rather than embracing one approach, the Space Force is likely to adopt them all to meet its goals for Tactically Responsive Space, which the military service defines as the capability to respond to on-orbit needs on operationally relevant timelines.
“Depending on what the mission is, it might make more sense to use one versus the other,” Birchenough said.
Through the Tactically Responsive Space-3 mission, for example, the Space Force is preparing to launch a Millennium-built satellite on a Firefly Aerospace rocket.
“The ability to launch into a specific orbit provides some extra benefits that having something stored on orbit might not,” Birchenough said. “Working very closely with our commercial partners obviously provides a lot of advantages too.”
One of the keys to close cooperation with industry will be contracting. In a time of crisis, military leaders will need flexible contracting mechanisms that allow them to rapidly acquire whatever they need.
That approach is preferable to establishing depots to store dozens of satellites on the ground or having a launch vehicle waiting on a pad, Birchenough said. Still, the Space Force might purchase some minimal number of satellites that could be launched quickly, Birchenough added.
For launch vehicles, the Space Safari office is considering contracts that would allow companies to “build some extra capacity into their production lines so that there’s one [rocket] that can be ready,” Birchenough said. “If we don’t need it, they can launch it for one of their commercial missions. Then another one would be available.”