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Starfish Space to Conduct On-Orbit Docking and Maneuver With National Security Space Assets

By Calvin Biesecker | May 21, 2024
A Starfish Space Otter space vehicle in GEO. Photo: Starfish Space

A Starfish Space Otter space vehicle in GEO. Photo: Starfish Space

U.S. Space Systems Command (SSC) on Monday said it has awarded Starfish Space a $37.5 million contract in which the company’s Otter space vehicle will dock with, and augment maneuvers of, national security space assets in a first of its kind mission.

Under the $37.5 million Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) contract, Seattle-based Starfish is required to provide $30 million in venture capital investment.

Starfish, which is venture-backed, will build, launch, and operate the Otter space vehicle for the two-year mission in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s SpaceWERX Program, and SSC’s Space Safari, Commercial Space Office, and Assured Access to Space (AATS) organizations.

“This project is another step forward in delivering what our warfighters require in sustained space maneuver,” Col. Joyce Bulson, director of servicing, mobility, and logistics for AATS, said in a statement. “For a particular class of spacecraft with a particular mission set in GEO, refueling may be the answer to sustaining maneuver. For other systems, augmented maneuver options may be the solution. There is a wide range of applications for Starfish Space’s Otter, in addition to augmented maneuver, such as station-keeping or life extension, orbital transfer, and ultimately, orbital disposal which assures access to key orbital slots while demonstrating responsible norms in space.”

A spokeswoman for Starfish told Defense Daily the company is aiming to launch the mission in 2026. The contract covers four years.

In April, Starfish and D-Orbit conducted a successful on-orbit rendezvous between an Otter Pup spacecraft and D-Orbit’s ION SCV006 satellite. For that mission, once the satellites maneuvered to within about one kilometer of each other, Otter Pup pointed its cameras and captured images of the ION, successfully demonstrating the rendezvous. Starfish said the mission was a key step toward making affordable on-orbit satellite serving a reality.

Otter is designed to dock with satellites that are not configured to dock. Starfish on its website says Otter is equipped with guidance and control software, binocular computer vision for navigation, and a docking device that adheres to most flat surfaces.

SSC said that capabilities offered by Otter for autonomous rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking give it “a range of options to support existing assets and allow future assets to be supported without imposing additional configuration requirements” and will aid “development of various space mobility and logistics missions in support of the warfighter.”

Starfish has received previous Small Business Innovation Research and Defense Department contracts to help develop its satellite guidance software and universal guidance system. The STRATFI award, which leverages private capital, will help scale Starfish’s efforts toward a potential operational capability and product offering.

This story was first published by Defense Daily