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DARPA Awards Redwire Contract for VLEO Satellite Mission

By Rachel Jewett | June 17, 2024

      A visualization of Redwire’s Sabre platform. Photo: Redwire

      The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Redwire Corporation a contract for a demonstration mission in Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO). The mission, part of DARPA’s Otter program, will demonstrate Redwire’s SabreSat VLEO platform. 

      Redwire said VLEO spacecraft are of increased interest for national security missions because they fly above airborne anti-access areas, but significantly closer to the ground than existing satellites. Redwire called the SabreSat platform an “orbital drone.” It is intended to seed the market for VLEO opportunities.

      The Otter program will demonstrate an “air-breathing satellite” using novel electric propulsion systems in VLEO. As the prime contractor and mission systems enabler for DARPA’s Otter program, Redwire will be responsible for building the SabreSat bus, integrating, coordinating, and leading the team for the project. 

      Redwire did not disclose the contract value, but the contract includes pricing for design through on-orbit operations, Spence Wise, senior vice president of Missions & Platforms for Redwire, said in an email.

      DARPA recently also awarded propulsion supplier Phase Four to deliver an electric propulsion system for the Otter program. The thrusters and prime are procured separately, and Wise clarified that Redwire has not disclosed a propulsion system provider for Otter, but there are “multiple good options available.”

      “We are proud to be leveraging our SabreSat satellite design to support critical VLEO technology advancements for DARPA’s game-changing Otter program,” Wise said in a news release. “As VLEO emerges as a critical domain for national security missions, Redwire is continuing to make investments to support technology innovation and strategic operations in this environment.”

      Redwire is working on a VLEO project in Europe as well

      Calvin Biesecker from Defense Daily contributed to this article.