SpaceWERX Deputy Director Gabe Mounce: This project reflects a “sense of urgency” about space sustainability
WASHINGTON — SpaceWERX, the technology arm of the US space forcehas selected 125 industry teams for the initial phase of the Orbital Prime program, an effort to develop technologies for orbital debris cleanup and other space services.
Each team will receive a $250,000 contract to develop their concepts and perform initial design work, officials said. SpaceNews.
“As of Friday, we notified 125 teams in 27 states that they were selected and funded,” Lt. Col. Brian Holt, co-director of Orbital Prime, said on May 2.
Holt could not reveal the total number of proposals received, but said it was a much higher response than expected.
first orbital is a Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) that requires bidding teams to include small businesses as well as academic or non-profit institutions. Businesses must be at least 51% US owned and operated, and the work must be performed in the United States.
SpaceWERX plans to award all 125 contracts over the next 30 days, with each team having around 150 days to deliver a product or study. Later this year they will have the opportunity to compete for second phase prizes of up to $1.5 million to continue development and prototyping.
The long-term goal is to select one or more teams within two years to perform a space demonstration. OSAM Technologies, short for In-Orbit Maintenance, Assembly, and Manufacturing. This includes a wide range of technologies to repair and refuel existing satellites, remove and recycle orbital debris, and manufacture products in space.
These demonstrations would be funded by a combination of government and private matching funds, Holt said.
Gabe Mounce, deputy director of SpaceWERX, noted that when Orbital Prime started in november, it was unclear whether it would attract wide participation. SpaceWERX initially expected to award 20 to 30 contracts, he said. “What we are seeing is that there is much more to this than we thought.”
The extraordinary response reflects a “sense of urgency” about the sustainability of the space, Mounce added. The plethora of deals shows “why this is such an important topic and why this is the perfect time to do it.”
Proposals include technologies for in-orbit approach, in-orbit acquisition, and in-orbit servicing.
Holt said he was impressed by the level of maturity of the proposed technologies. “The technology is there,” he said. “It’s more about tuning and integration for this mission.”
SpaceWERX sees Orbital Prime as a model for how the government can work with commercial industry, Holt said. “We have heard several comments that what we have done is a good demonstration of how to revolutionize the procurement process.”
To attract small businesses, SpaceWERX held regular webinars and helped connect startups with matchmaking services to find partners.
“The biggest risk I saw was bringing in the university requirement or research institutions,” he said. “We didn’t know how well that part was going to be integrated, but the small companies showed that they have a great network with research institutions. So I think it was a great success.”
Holt said the selected teams include a mix of space startups and traditional defense companies.