Responsive Space – US Responsive Space RFI

This article is a summary of the AFRL RFI titled “Solutions to Enhance Responsive Space Systems”. The purpose of the RFI is to solicit
industry input on the areas to enhance Responsive Space missions for future militarily useful missions. The RFI was published on May 5 2022 and closed on May 19, 2022.

This RFI is interesting because it provides insights into specific use cases for Responsive Space by the US Space Force.


The Air Force Research Laboratory Rocket Propulsion Division (aka AFRL Rocket Lab, AFRL/RQR) is soliciting information and comments from industry on their ability to meet future responsive launch missions and to identify specific investments in technology that would improve responsive capabilities. As such, the goal of this RFI is to identify technology gaps, current ROM for demonstration activities, government facility capabilities that industry would/could use and/or technology areas requiring further investment.

For the purposes of this RFI, the AFRL Rocket Lab provides these two examples of potential new scenarios (termed Responsive scenarios for convenience) that are beyond current tactically responsive space envelopes. These mission descriptions are meant as a cursory baseline for context to the industry’s RFI responses and are not a delineation of USSF priorities or selected mission sets for further acquisition:

High Energy Orbit Response: The launch of a small spacecraft to a specific targeted high energy orbit of interest in a timely manner. These would be orbits usually treated as beyond the current small launch capability.

  • Spacecraft are small, generally preferred around ESPA class but even up to ESPA Grande.
  • Delivery point is challenging orbital destinations such as, but not limited to, GEO, MEO, L1, L2 or HALO orbits within the Cislunar sphere of Influence (SOI).
  • Timelines would entail a Spacecraft (SC) at the orbit of interest within a range of days to weeks from an identified need. For the purposes of this RFI – Spacecraft is assumed to be “on-the-shelf”
  • Affordable response that is in line with costs of expendable missiles or munitions (<<$100m) per launch.
  • This might entail two launches: a primary rapid response spacecraft (RR-SC) to a high energy orbit and a refueler SC. The refueler would be required to link up with the RR-SC at some point along the RR-SC’s orbit and quickly accomplish the refueling operation. This may require the two SC to fly along different trajectories.

New Tactical Layer Deployment: The deployment of a tactical responsive layer made up of multiple small spacecraft via multiple globally disparate launches to provide new capabilities to the warfighter with minimal to no warning to the adversary. This requires the insertion of multiple SCs into uniquely disparate orbits for mission specific needs.

  • Spacecraft are small, ranging from Cubesat to ESPA class, but near ESPA is preferred.
  • Delivery point is to LEO and vLEO orbits, with both circular and elliptical capability.
  • Timelines entail a set of SCs delivered to the orbits of interest within a range of hours to days from an identified need. For the purposes of this RFI – Spacecraft is assumed to be “on-the-shelf”.
  • Affordable response that is in line with costs of expendable missiles or munitions (<<$100m) per launch.
  • System must be accommodating of distribution to the various global launch sites in advance of WARNORD (Warning order) call up hence be easily transportable within the Defense logistical enterprise. System would remain onsite a non-insignificant amount of time (>weeks) but must be able to rapidly activate for launch once onsite.
  • Multiple near-simultaneous launches would need to occur to provide for direct insertion of SCs to the right RAANs, inclinations and phasing as quickly as possible.
    • Launches occur within an order of hours from EXORD (execution order).
    • Each launch deploys a small number of spacecraft (more than 1, less than 5).
    • Expect at least 2 but up to 5 launches.


The Government is contemplating executing multiple capability demonstration activities to ascertain improvements to current State of the Art (SOA) responsive space capabilities. This RFI is seeking input from industry with respect to the following Responsive Space areas of interest:

  • Identify the current SOA of individual companies responsive space capabilities.
  • Identify technology investment areas that could enhance the responsiveness of beyond current SOA launch systems.
  • Technology investments to increase the capabilities of SOA Responsive Space launch vehicle capabilities.
  • Digital Engineering approaches applied to SOA responsive space launch systems that could enable increases to overall SOA system responsiveness
  • Alternative approaches to final delivery of space assets to a military relevant orbit that does not increase the mission cost or unit cost significantly, or the time to station/delivery while supporting responsive space goals and objectives.

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