Defense Innovation Unit researches commercial options to deploy satellites in deep space

DoD seeks ‘reactive access’ to cislunar space

WASHINGTON – The Defense Innovation Unit is seeking commercial service proposals to deploy and operate payloads in outer space beyond Earth’s orbit, an area known as cislunar space .

DIU, a Department of Defense agency created to integrate commercially developed technology into military programs, seeks “responsive access” to the vast region of space that begins at Earth’s geosynchronous orbit and extends to at the Earth-moon Lagrange point on the other side of the moon.

Outer space beyond GEO “will see a rapid influx of activity from domestic, international and commercial sources during this decade,” DIU said in a statement. Solicitation of December 7. “As the United States prepares to return to the moon, the need for responsive access to this region is absolutely necessary.”

The Department of Defense is interested in “commercial solutions to implement responsive access to xGEO and demonstrate rapid and accurate delivery of a space vehicle to a pre-determined orbit in xGEO”.

DIU’s new project on cislunar space follows the Air Force Research Laboratory Awarded a $72 million contract for an experimental spacecraft to monitor the xGEO region.

US Army leaders have warned that increasing activity in cislunar space could turn this region into a disputed domain as countries seek access to lunar resources and delineate areas of jurisdiction. Current sensors used by the military for space domain awareness were designed to track satellites in Earth orbit, at ranges of 36,000 kilometers or less, and not for cislunar space which spans 385,000 kilometers and has different orbital paths.

DIU said companies bidding on this project can expect many technical challenges. “The communications infrastructure is sparse, the radiation environment is harsh, and the gravity of the moon and sun have greater effects on stationkeeping and maneuvering,” the solicitation said.

Proposals are due December 21.

Suppliers are invited to propose satellite concepts capable of operating a suite of payloads or instruments in one or more of the five Earth-Moon Lagrange points and lunar orbits. DIU wants commercial technologies that can be prototyped within 12-18 months of contract award.

“Delivery methods can include a combination of ground launch and multi-orbit logistics,” DIU said.

Satellites can be anywhere from cubesats to small ESPA-class satellites, and must have at least one or more payloads for visible and infrared imaging, onboard image processing, high momentum propulsion, l autonomy, space radiation monitoring and communications.

The DoD also wants to explore integrating commercial and government-owned payloads on the same spacecraft.

Once proposals are received, the DIU may recommend that companies offering complementary technologies work together, although vendors may offer their own collaboration agreements.

Within approximately three months, DIU plans to select the companies that will receive Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) system prototype contracts. The agency has the ability to award follow-on production contracts “without resorting to competitive procedures.”

OTA contracts are used by the federal government primarily for research and development projects. These contracts differ from traditional supply agreements in that they are not subject to many of the regulations and requirements that apply to traditional contracts. OTAs are frequently used for projects that require collaboration between the government and non-traditional defense contractors.

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