WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force is kicking off a new initiative focused on the rapid deployment of satellites during conflicts or emergencies. 

From Aug. 30 through Sept. 28, companies can submit bids for the “Tactically Responsive Space Challenge” on the DoD Small Business Innovation Research portal. Selected proposals will receive “direct to Phase 2” Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contracts worth up to $1.7 million.

The Space Force is looking for “capabilities to rapidly respond to any kind of on-orbit needs on operationally relevant timelines. And usually that means within about 24 hours or less,” said Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Space Safari materiel leader at the Space Systems Command.

Speaking on a webinar Aug. 24, Birchenough said the Space Force is hoping to get ideas from a broad range of companies in the launch, satellite, ground systems and space logistics sectors of the industry. 

Birchenough’s organization, Space Safari, last year funded a tactically responsive space experiment and awarded contracts to Firefly Aerospace and Millennium Space to launch a space mission on 24 hours’ notice. That mission, called Victus Nox, has not yet launched. 

Looking for fresh ideas

In announcing the kickoff of the Tactically Responsive Space Challenge, Birchenough said there is a need for comprehensive solutions beyond just buying launch services and payloads.

In a tactically responsive scenario, for example, the U.S. would need to launch a small imaging satellite to inspect a potential adversary’s spacecraft. “It could be some type of threat response where the adversary launches something new into orbit and we want to go and characterize it in a very short timeline,” she said. 

Another scenario would be having to launch communications or imaging satellites to replace assets that were damaged during a conflict.

“It’s really having the ability to have something on the ground and ready to launch at the time of need,” said Birchenough. “There’s a lot of different approaches.”

The Space Force is open to nontraditional concepts such as having payloads readily available in warehouses on orbit. “We are extremely interested in capabilities that would be prepositioned on orbit and allow us to quickly respond that way, completely taking launch out of the equation,” she said. 

“The scope here is very large and we’re looking for things that would fill all of those different approaches across those different mission areas,” Birchenough added.

The ‘Tactically Responsive Space Challenge’ will seek proposals under six different areas: 

  • Upfront coordination processes
  • Logistics — defined broadly as capabilities for storage, security, fueling, support, and transportation
  • Payloads sensors including electro-optical, infrared, LIDAR and radar
  • Spacecraft buses, satellite refueling, maneuvering and disposal
  • Launch vehicles
  • Ground systems, command and control, on-orbit operations, and global antenna networks

The project is run by SpaceWERX, a Space Force technology-focused organization, and the Space Systems Command.  

SpaceWERX project manager Maj. Jareth Lamb said companies are encouraged to team up with others, and can bid for multiple awards in more than one of the six areas. 

Birchenough said the Space Force is looking for relatively mature technologies that can be prototyped over 15 months and fielded within two years.

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...