Space RCO Seeks New Ways For Military Payloads To Hitch Ride

Credit: Space Rapid Capabilities Office

The U.S. Space Force’s secretive office charged with rapid acquisition is looking for new ways for military payloads to hitch a ride on commercial space vehicles to geosynchronous orbit and possibly beyond. 

The Space Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) on Aug. 17 released a request for information (RFI) to identify ways to integrate government payloads on a mature space vehicle with minimal engineering and modifications required. Specifically, the RFI calls for two separate space vehicle variants to meet different missions to orbits beyond geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) plus or minus 300 km (186.4 mi.), at an inclination of plus or minus 5 deg., and lasting between three to five years.  

The document says the first variant should have a payload power of more than 300 watts and a mass of about 100 kg (220 lb.). The second should have a payload power of more than 500 watts and a mass of 300-500 kg.

The orbital requirements outlined are similar to other space domain awareness satellites, such as the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP) satellites that drift above and below GEO to track and monitor objects in that orbit. The Space Force announced Aug. 2 that it had deactivated GSSAP’s Space Vehicle 2 in July after declaring its mission complete. Two additional GSSAP launches are set for 2024 and 2027.

Variants may share a launch vehicle and be able to reach respective operational orbits after separation independently. For both, the secondary reaction control subsystem needs to be chemical and provide redundant attitude control and orbit maintenance, the document says.

For the first, lighter, variant the propulsion system can be chemical or electric, while the second’s propulsion system can only be chemical.  

The Space RCO calls on companies to meet the development and delivery of a fully integrated space vehicle in 18 to 24 months with an end goal of launch by fiscal 2027, the RFI says. Responses need to include a nonbinding rough order of magnitude schedule and a top-level estimate. Responses are due by Nov. 1, 2023.  

The office was created by Congress in 2018, charged with delivering new projects within five years. Kelly Hammett, the officer’s director, told Aerospace DAILY in a June 2022 interview that the office at the time had 14 classified projects in its purview that it was required to bring to operation in one to five years.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.