Capitalism in space: In a video released today, the Space Force announced a new program, dubbed Orbital Prime, that asks commercial companies to bid on a new test program for removing space junk.
More info here.
The initial solicitation, due by February 17th, asks for proposals capable of achieving the ability to rendezvous, dock and service a piece of space junk, either by “repairing, repositioning, refueling, deorbiting, reusing or recycling” it. The solicitation is aiming for orbital test flights in no more than two to four years.
This approach by the military is excellent news, and continues the transition by the space-related agencies of federal government from trying to design and build everything itself to acting merely as a customer and buying what it needs from the private sector.
There are a number of companies who have already launched robots capable of doing exactly this, including Northrop Grumman and Astroscale. By taking this customer approach, the military will likely not only get a junk removal capability sooner, it will do so for far less cost.
It would also seem that the Russian anti-satellite test that produced thousands of pieces of orbital junk that now threatens ISS and a number of military satellites also helped prompt this announcement. The military has clearly recognized that it needs the capability to remove space junk now. It cannot afford to follow its past behavior of taking forever to accomplish such tasks.
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