Defense Innovation Unit awards three contracts for space logistics technologies

Defense Innovation Unit awards three contracts for space logistics technologies

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s commercial technology arm, the Defense Innovation Unit, announced March 20 it is funding three projects to explore ways to create a more robust space infrastructure that can support military operations beyond low Earth orbit.

The projects were awarded to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and Spacebilt. “Each of the companies selected for an award showed strong research and development  investments into their particular solutions for use in the commercial market,” said DIU.

DIU is partnering with Blue Origin on a space mission called Dark-Sky 1 that will send to orbit a heavy multi-orbit space tug based on the company’s Blue Ring platform. The vehicle will be launched as a rideshare payload on a U.S. Space Force national security mission.

Dark-Sky 1 is jointly funded by DIU and Blue Origin. “This effort will be ready for launch in July of this year,” a DIU spokesperson told SpaceNews. “Blue Origin is in the final stages of developing the Dark-Sky 1 mission system, which will demonstrate core mission operation and flight system capabilities.”

“The lessons learned from this DS-1 mission will provide a leap forward for Blue Ring and its ability to provide greater access to multiple orbits,” said Paul Ebertz, senior vice president of Blue Origin’s In-Space Systems.

On-orbit refueling, manufacturing

Another contract jointly funded by DIU and Space Force is for in-space refueling technologies from Space Logistics, Northrop Grumman’s in-space servicing subsidiary. The government is funding integration of the company’s Active Refueling Moule (ARM) and Passive Refueling Module (PRM) in military spacecraft. These are interfaces to enable docking and transferring of fuel. The PRM will fly on a Space Force operational mission and will be integrated on the company’s new servicing vehicle, called Mission Robotics Vehicle. 

A third contract was awarded to reusable spacecraft manufacturer Spacebilt, previously known as Skycorp. DIU wants to validate the company’s approach and methods for in-space assembly and manufacturing for DoD use cases. 

“Since award, Spacebilt has progressed toward a mass manufacturable product, conducted risk reduction missions to the International Space Station for their  flight hardware, and maturity of their commercially available avionics hardware,” DIU said.

Spacebilt is targeting a late 2026 launch of its multi-orbit logistics vehicle that is launched in a protective container and assembled on orbit.

Established in 2015, DIU acts as a bridge between the Department of Defense and the commercial tech sector. It identifies promising technologies with potential military applications and streamlines the often-bureaucratic acquisition process.

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