DoD signaling demand for satellite support services in geostationary orbit

Protection Innovation Unit’s Steve Butow: ‘We wish to make GEO cool once more’

WASHINGTON — The Protection Innovation Unit is funding house tasks that the company hopes will spur industrial investments in satellite tv for pc refueling applied sciences and help companies for geostationary satellites. 

“Think about a world the place each 18 to 24 months, you might merely improve the processor on a satellite tv for pc in GEO the way in which that you just improve your smartphone to reap the benefits of new processing energy and new performance,” mentioned Steve “Bucky” Butow, director of the house portfolio on the Protection Innovation Unit.

DIU, primarily based in Silicon Valley, is a Protection Division company established in 2015 to assist deliver privately funded innovation into navy packages.

Since its inception, a lot of DIU’s house portfolio targeted on low Earth orbit capabilities however the company is now turning extra consideration towards the GEO belt, 22,000 miles above the Equator the place lots of the navy’s key satellites function.

Lately “DoD has sort of woke up to the ability of low Earth orbit … and now we wish to make GEO cool once more,” Butow mentioned final month at a Nationwide Safety Area Affiliation on-line occasion.

DIU is particularly focused on logistics, manufacturing and in-space satellite tv for pc servicing. Butow mentioned the plan is to workforce up with personal corporations and fund prototypes of methods that would later be commercialized. One other profit for DoD is that having a extra strong infrastructure in GEO would assist help operations past Earth orbit into cislunar house. 

“If we are able to ship new transformative capabilities to the GEO belt, the cislunar area is actually open for enterprise as properly,” mentioned Butow. These applied sciences, he mentioned, additionally would help NASA’s house exploration efforts. 

A DIU spokesperson mentioned the company couldn’t disclose how a lot funding goes to GEO house infrastructure tasks. The company has a small price range however will get packages funded by teaming up with bigger DoD companies such because the Area Programs Command and the Air Pressure Analysis Laboratory. Personal corporations that work with DIU additionally need to comply with partially fund tasks. 

In-space satellite tv for pc refueling and robotic servicing automobiles are two areas the place DoD is anticipated to extend investments, Area Pressure Maj. David Ryan, DIU program supervisor, informed table4. 

DIU is reviewing bids for a mission to reveal in-orbit refueling throughout a number of orbits. This system is called RAPID, which stands for readily accessible propellant in various orbits. 

One other program is known as Modularity for Area Programs, or M4SS. DIU in March chosen three corporations — Motiv Area Programs, Maxar Applied sciences and Tethers Limitless — to prototype robotic arms and different modular methods that might be hooked up to servicing automobiles working in GEO. The businesses need to ship prototypes in 2024. The worth of their contracts has not been disclosed.

These robotic arms, Ryan mentioned, are going to “seize, connect themselves to different automobiles, present upgrades or servicing.” 

DIU informed the three corporations to design methods that might be commercialized moderately than observe navy specs. The concept is to maintain prices as little as attainable and assist the businesses promote their companies to a broad vary of consumers, Ryan mentioned. 

If these prototypes are profitable, the expectation is that DoD organizations will present long-term funding. DoD’s monetary help for satellite tv for pc refueling and servicing is necessary as a result of it sends a sign to the industrial market that if corporations put money into these applied sciences, the navy can be a buyer, Ryan mentioned. “Trade desires to know that they’re not going to place an costly satellite tv for pc into an austere orbit and be deserted as a result of there’s no infrastructure to help that down the road.”

“DIU in a means is representing the federal government after we put money into these tasks like robotic arms and interfaces to offer energy, knowledge, and naturally refueling,” Ryan mentioned. 

“We’re sort of at a tipping level,” he mentioned. Industrial business is able to transfer ahead however wants the federal government “to offer these demand indicators, lay out that framework, present a specific amount of infrastructure to reveal that there’s going to be a market.”

The federal government doesn’t plan to be the anchor buyer “however it’ll in all probability be one of many largest customers of those applied sciences, particularly in GEO,” Ryan mentioned.

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