The U.S. military’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is asking for submissions for a small, free-flying Orbital Outpost that the Department of Defense will use in space.
The DIU’s solicitation specifies that the outpost needs to be capable of space assembly, microgravity experimentation, manufacturing, training, tests, evaluations, and more — basically making it an autonomous space station.
This Orbital Outpost will need to have continuous power and would need to have at least a cubic meter of space inside, so it would likely be tiny compared to the International Space Station or even your typical rocket. The miniature outpost would have to be reasonably strong though, with an ability to carry a payload capacity of 80 kilograms or 176 pounds.
The outpost could eventually grow to accommodate a human crew, according to the solicitation. It should also have the ability to attach to other outposts.
The military wants this tiny outpost to be ready within two years once the contractor is chosen by the DIU. Submissions are currently open until July 9.
All this means the DIU is considering increasing the military’s presence in orbit. Independent government agencies, such as NASA, are in space, but any form of military presence in space could prove to be controversial.
President Donald Trump wants to create a Space Force by 2020, viewing it as a sixth branch of the military.
While this new proposal for an Orbital Outpost doesn’t seem like a threatening military weapon due to its size and weight capacity, it’s unclear what the U.S. military would use it for. The solicitation does say that the tiny space station should have “unique features contributing to national security or defense.”
Colonel Steve Butow, the director of the DIU’s Space Portfolio, told Breaking Defense that his unit is “casting a wide net for commercial solutions that can meet the basic needs described in the first part of the solicitation (autonomous/robotic, etc).”
He also said that the military is “more interested in the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why.’”
If things move fast, the outpost could end up in low Earth Orbit by 2020 — right when Trump’s Space Force is supposed to come online.