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Friday, July 19, 2024

US DOD Awards Contract for At-sea Space Launch Infrastructure

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

May 28, 2024

(Photo: The Spaceport Company)

(Photo: The Spaceport Company)

The Spaceport Company (TSC) has been awarded a contract by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), an office within the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), to deliver cargo and enable greater access to space by leveraging a unique, seagoing mobile space launch complex. This prototype is intended to demonstrate delivery to a mission-designed orbit and test autonomy-like features of the sea launch vessel.

The ability to rapidly re-constitute space-based capabilities or resupply time-sensitive cargo at precise locations on-orbit or terrestrially is a critical but presently under-developed capability, according to the DIU, which is leveraging commercial solutions for responsive delivery of cargo to, through, and from space.

DIU's Novel Responsive Space Delivery (NRSD) project was launched to prototype commercial solutions that enable responsive and precise point-to-point delivery to orbit, between vehicles in orbit, and to precisely to Earth via novel reentry vehicles and methods. Collectively, the NRSD project will deliver a diverse set of solutions to contested logistics problems, sustaining competitive advantage for deployed terrestrial and space forces.

"We curated and launched this project in response to a diverse set of needs we were hearing within the DOD. Responsive and reliable logistics and sustainment lines of communication are essential to the Warfighter,” said Austin Baker, Deputy Portfolio Director for DIU’s space portfolio. “By prototyping commercial solutions for the delivery of cargo and other supplies to, through, and from space, we will equip the Joint Force with new methods for sustainment that directly address this need and provide a unique competitive advantage, particularly in instances in which conventional logistics pathways on Earth and in space are contested. The response from industry to this area of interest was tremendous.”

DIU issued the first of multiple awards under the NRSD project to The Spaceport Company, which is developing a novel method for mobile sea-based launch. A sea-based launch platform is a strategically significant capability that increases equatorial launch access while enabling responsive launch coordination by avoiding high-traffic airspace.

In Phase 1 of the NRSD project, TSC will construct and demonstrate foundational maritime launch technologies within the next 12 months. Depending on TSC's Phase 1 outcome, DIU may award future modular phases to TSC. DIU's objective in this phased approach is to work with TSC as it constructs its self-contained, oceangoing space launch complex and creates the complex's capability to quickly deliver satellites to orbit from wide swathes of the ocean on a regular, commercial basis.  

TSC builds infrastructure to solve the problem of launch site congestion. Founded in 2022, the team has over 30 years of combined experience in the space industry. Leveraging its extensive expertise as well as prior support from DIU's National Security Innovation Capital program, TSC developed a cost-effective, self-contained, and scalable rocket launch and landing site concept using ubiquitous commercial maritime vessels.

"Demand for launch sites exceeds supply, and building new launch sites on land is blocked by environmental concerns and community opposition. Furthermore, commercial launch companies seek a future with fleets of rockets delivering tons of cargo to and from orbit on an hourly basis. The only viable way to build enough launch site infrastructure to support such a vision is to build it on ships at sea. We are specialists in this area, having successfully launched four sounding rockets in one day from a commercial vessel," said Tom Marotta, CEO of The Spaceport Company. "I'm excited to deepen our partnership with the DOD to realize our shared vision of cost-effective, scalable, and reliable launch site access for both U.S. and allied partners."

Successful test launch
TSC first successfully tested its mobile floating spaceport prototype on May 22, 2023 by conducting the first-ever commercial rocket launches from U.S. territorial waters. Multiple rockets were launched in one day from a modified ship located in the Gulf of Mexico.

Conducted on-schedule and within budget, the offshore spaceport demonstration successfully tested all the procedures necessary to conduct an orbital-class launch: regulatory approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), scheduling, control of public access, range surveillance, hazard clearance, airspace integration, anomaly response, and remote launch vehicle ignition at sea.

“This demonstration provided numerous lessons which will be incorporated into our next project: building a sea-based spaceport capable of orbital operations,” Marotta said. “We are working towards offering the U.S.’s first truly commercial spaceport, which can best support the rapidly growing commercial launch industry and alleviate the burdens on government ranges.”

(Photo: The Spaceport Company)