The US Department of Defense (DOD) has selected aerospace and defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to develop a prototype unmanned orbital outpost.
In a July 14 SNC press release, it was revealed that the company has been contracted by the Defence Innovation Unit to develop a scalable, autonomous space station. To deliver on the DIU contract, SNC will not develop a new platform but will instead modify its Shooting Star transport vehicle.
Shooting Star was developed by SNC to be used in conjunction with the company’s Dream Chaser vehicle for NASA ISS resupply missions. However, the vehicle also has the capability to operate as a free-flying platform under its own guidance and power. As a result, the vehicle makes an ideal base to develop a small, scalable space station.
“The current Shooting Star is already designed with significant capabilities for an orbital outpost and by adding only a few components we are able to meet Department of Defense needs,” explained Steve Lindsey, SNC vice president of strategy.
Despite the SNC press release stating the Shooting Star vehicle is 16 feet (4.8 meters) in length, the bulk of the company’s other literature describes the vehicle as a “15-foot transport vehicle”. The vehicle is capable of carrying 10,000 pounds (4,500 kilograms) of pressurised and unpressurised cargo, the exact split of which is not stated. It offers both berthing and docking capabilities, and solar panels capable of generating 6kw of power.
The proposed DIU orbital outpost prototype will be “initially established in LEO.” It will feature navigation, guidance, and control for long-term free-flight operations. Once deployed, the orbital outpost will be used for a number of functions including hosting experimental payloads, space assembly operations, logistics, and training.
According to SNC, future iterations of the orbital outpost could be deployed into a number of orbits including “medium-Earth orbit, highly elliptical orbit, geosynchronous Earth orbits (GEO) to include GEO transfer orbits, and cislunar orbits.”