AFRL awards moon region space situational awareness contract to Advanced Space

By Michael Marrow / November 10, 2022 at 5:16 PM

The Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded Advanced Space $72 million to deliver a satellite that will perform space situational awareness services in the region of the moon, AFRL announced Thursday.

The satellite, named Oracle, will provide SSA and object detection and tracking services in cislunar orbit after its launch in late 2025. On-orbit experimentation will then proceed for two years, the announcement says.

Oracle will operate about 200,000 miles from earth, a region AFRL refers to as XGEO to denote space beyond geosynchronous orbit. The area is otherwise known as Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1.

As international interest in lunar voyages increases, the satellite will demonstrate tracking capabilities to prepare civil and military officials for the coming deluge of space traffic. Current Space Surveillance Satellites are equipped to track objects within approximately 22,000 miles, the announcement says, making Oracle the first step in filling a critical capability gap.

Since satellites often last well beyond their expected service lives, officials are prepared to extend Oracle’s mission to test other capabilities as well.

A green propellant developed by AFRL called Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic, or ASCENT, offers increased fuel efficiency and low toxicity along with extending satellite lifespans but requires more testing to mature.

Officials mounted a refueling port on Oracle, according to the announcement, though AFRL has no plans to refuel it. Instead, AFRL is leaving the opportunity open to further develop on-orbit refueling and mature the ASCENT fuel.

“We have a great deal to learn when it comes to operating, navigating and communicating from cislunar space and the more distant XGEO region,” AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate head Col. Jeremy Raley said in the release. “We look forward to working with Advanced Space LLC, as we deliver novel space capabilities, thereby providing a safe and sustainable cislunar environment.”