National Reconnaissance Office seeking industry innovations in space launch

National Reconnaissance Office seeking industry innovations in space launch

A Rocket Lab Electron vehicles launched NROL-123, dedicated launch for the National Reconnaissance Office, March 21, 2024, from Launch Complex 2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Rocket Lab

WASHINGTON — The National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that designs and operates U.S. spy satellites, is looking for fresh ideas and technologies from private industry in support of its space launch operations. 

The NRO’s Office of Space Launch issued a Broad Area Announcement (BAA) seeking proposals for its “Agile Launch Innovation and Strategic Technology Advancement” program. 

“The aim is to advance launch technology in strategic areas of interest that range from ground operations to on-orbit services,” the agency said in a statement. 

Submissions are due by April 5.

According to the BAA, key areas of focus include:

  • In-space mobility to enable access to non-traditional orbits and maneuvering between orbits
  • On-orbit logistics such as refueling, docking interfaces and de-orbiting
  • Techniques to accelerate space mission in areas like payload swapping, standards and reducing launch timelines
  • Artificial intelligence for ground operations, such as AI and machine-learning implementation into telemetry, tracking and command, or TT&C
  • Spacecraft propellant count, including methods for calculating the performance of spacecraft propellant

The launch innovations are being sought by the NRO as the spy agency plans an ambitious expansion of its satellite architecture over the next decade. To pull off this massive increase in space capacity, the agency knows it will need to lean heavily on commercial space companies and new disruptive technologies.  

By casting a wide net with the “Agile Launch Innovation” BAA, NRO leaders hope to identify cutting-edge technologies from traditional and non-traditional providers that can help execute their vision. 

BAAs are a tool used by the NRO to tap into the burgeoning capabilities of the private space sector. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense…

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