Responsive Space – European Responsive Space System RFP

This article provides an overview of the following European Defense Fund (EDF) request for proposal titled “EDF-2022-RA-SPACE-RSS: Responsive Space System.

The call for proposals closed in November 2022. Only companies from EU member countries were eligible to submit proposals. Potential contract value €20 million.

General Objective

The general objective of this research topic is to pave the way towards a future European responsive space system able to place small satellites in various types of orbits within a short notice in order to address specific operational needs, including tactical ones, and capability gaps stemming from shortage, failures and damages of existing space assets. This is particularly relevant in the field of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and satellite communication (SATCOM) where space assets have to be continuously operational and available to monitor and react to risks and events.

Such a responsive space system will enhance the resilience and autonomy of the Member States, Norway and of the European Union in the fields of ‘access to space’ and ‘space capabilities for defence applications.

Specific Objective

The specific obiective of this topic is to define the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) of such a responsive space system and to identify and compare suitable and affordable architectures and solutions for the end-to-end system. In order to be able to provide mission critical responsiveness in terms of reconstitution, replenishment or augmentation of space assets, the responsive solutions need to be considered within a broader space defence ecosystem. In this respect, the multiple logistical challenges required by an end-to-end system that needs to operate at a tactical pace should also be taken into account.

Functional Requirements

The responsive space system is expected to meet the following requirements:

  • time between request for launch and positioning into orbit should be less than 72 hours including flight range safety measures. Time to operational data delivery can be shorter, depending on the precision of orbit injection, the type of orbital propulsion, the type of sensors and related calibration in space;
  • ability to reach any low earth orbital plane, from equatorial to sun-synchronous polar orbits, while minimizing the operating and logistical constraints (operable from various types of areas); and
  • ability to place a satellite between 20 kg and 200 kg into an orbit of at least 400 km.

Expected Impact

This project should produce the following expected impacts:

  • set the basis for the development of a responsive space capability not yet available at European level;
  • creation of a sovereign supply chain in Europe for defence capabilities in the domain of responsive space systems;
  • leveraging the European defence technological and industrial base in the domains of launch infrastructure (including mobile carriers), rockets and satellite platforms and sensors; and
  • extension of EU launch solutions portfolio and strengthening of the EU autonomy in this field.

Project Proposal Scope

Project proposals must address collaborative defence research on the CONOPS and architecture of a responsive space system composed of a launch infrastructure (including fixed sites and/or mobile carriers), launch vehicles and spacecraft (satellite platforms and payloads) concepts as well as the ground segments and stations needed to operate the launcher and the satellite/payload. Project proposals must consider various options for each component of the system based on existing solutions, adapted solutions and/or new developments. In particular, terrestrial, maritime or airborne launch solutions must be considered.

Project Tasks

The following tasks must be performed as part of the mandatory activities (studies) of the project:

  • consolidation of CONOPS from end-users, from user request for launch and preparation of the launch to ground and space segment interaction during launch and orbital phases;
  • identification of main mission use cases for the responsive space system;
  • preliminary analysis of the applicable regulatory framework (e.g., compliance with NOTAM28/NOTMAR29 requirements, launch security and safety requirements including stage re-entry, mission abort…);
  • definition of the overall conceptual architecture for the end-to-end system and associated high level requirements;
  • identification of high-level requirements for the launch infrastructure and of suitable launch zones to launch terrestrial, maritime or airborne systems on short notice:
  • identification of high-level requirements for the launch vehicle;
  • identification of high-level requirements for the spacecraft:
  • identification of high-level requirements and definition for the ground segments and stations needed to operate the launcher and the satellite mission (platform and payload);
  • identification and analysis of existing solutions able to meet the requirements and of needs for adaptations or for new research and development actions with their associated roadmap;
  • costs vs benefits analysis (informed by COOPS and architecture definitions) of the different options identified; and
  • preliminary requirements review (PRR) guided by the end-users (from Members States and Norway).