Novel Responsive Space Delivery
The defense innovation unit published an RFP on June 30, 2023, soliciting proposals on responsive space delivery systems. The RFP is only open until July 17, which indicates they already know who they want/expect to get responses from.
The ability to rapidly re-constitute space-based capabilities or re-supply payloads or cargo at precise locations for time-sensitive logistics (in-space or terrestrially) is a critical but presently non-existent capability that contributes to sustained U.S. economic leadership in space, and builds an enduring advantage that may be leveraged during times of crisis or conflict. With the emergence of in-space manufacturing and accelerated growth of both manned and unmanned orbital destinations requiring logistics support, there is a need to deliver/return payloads and cargo accurately, safely and on-demand. Sustaining isolated or remote platforms or teams of people affordably and at scale additionally requires evaluation of emerging technology solutions that potentially satisfy commercial, civil and national security needs.
The Department of Defense (DoD) seeks novel commercial solutions that enable responsive and precise point-to-point delivery of cargo to, from, and through space. Doing so in a cost effective manner at scale requires solutions that leverage reusable or serviceable technologies to move a wide variety of cargo where it is needed, when it is needed. Awarded companies will prototype autonomous delivery for one or more of three distinct modalities: from Earth to a mission-designed orbit or trajectory in space, orbital return from space to the Earth to a precise point of recovery, and through space from one orbit to another.
Submissions should address one or more of these “to,” “from,” and “through” modalities and the envisioned delivery vehicle prototype(s) necessary for successful flight demonstration. Companies that cannot organically support an end-to-end demonstration (all three modalities) are encouraged to support teaming arrangements that may be facilitated through this project.
This solicitation will begin with a commercialization analysis, mission planning, and initial non-recurring engineering (NRE) phase focused on both commercial and government applications to further refine concepts of operation for in-space and terrestrial delivery. Selected prototypes may subsequently progress to additional phases for one or more mission demonstrations conducted using an agile development methodology. Later phases may additionally include:
- Larger payloads (by mass and/or volume) delivered with greater accuracy.
- Suborbital delivery of cargo for emergent/on-demand needs.
- Addition of autonomous distribution for “last mile” delivery.
- Investigation of suitability to support or augment other time-sensitive operations such as rescue or disaster response.
Compelling solutions will be:
- Novel in capability, capacity, responsiveness, and delivery accuracy.
- Mature and ready to show key elements of brassboard or flight-ready hardware within 90 days of award.
- Minimally viable and flight-ready within 24 months.
- Supported by a Payload User’s Guide (PUG) made available upon request detailing relevant approaches to cargo loading, interfaces, launch vehicle compatibility, insertion into mission-defined staging orbit, orbital maneuver, re-entry, descent and precision landing based on the modalities addressed in the submission.
- Designed for autonomous operation.
- Designed to minimize or prevent the release of orbital debris.
- Produced via domestic and/or friendly foreign supply chains.
- Responsive and cost effective either as a service or at production scale.
- Helpful to solving the Last Mile Delivery (LMD) challenge in space.
- Commercially viable independent of the government use cases discussed herein.
Desired solution differentiators:
- Responsiveness (lead time, in hours or days, from order to launch and orbital insertion, and delivery time from a staging orbit to intended point of delivery in-space or terrestrial, as applicable; lower is better).
- Cadence (number of deliveries within a given timeframe; higher is better).
- Compatibility (modular components, configurable cargo compartments, and delivery vehicles providing the greatest flexibility in mass and volume or otherwise suitable for larger servicer or ‘dispensor’ space logistics vehicles are preferred).
- Capacity (a variety of mass and volume capacities will be considered; larger is better. Tens to hundreds of kilograms and appropriately sized cargo compartment volumes).
- Maneuverability (ability to correct for changes in delivery location, or increase flexibility in launch or reentry trajectories).
- Precision (for in-space delivery, sufficient to enable subsequent deployment or recovery of a maneuverable payload or Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO)-capable servicer/logistics vehicle; for terrestrial delivery, maximizes potential to deliver cargo to a terrestrial location as accurately as possible).
- Longevity (capable of remaining in a mission-designed staging orbit until called upon for delivery; higher is better. Able to sustain cargo or payload viability during extended missions – i.e. power, data, environmental control, etc).
- Cost (per mission or delivery; lower is better).