On May 2, 2022, SpaceWERX confirmed the selection of 125 industry teams to compete in its Orbital Prime program. SpaceWERX describes itself as “the innovation arm of the U.S. Space Force and a part of AFWERX, powered by the Air Force Research Laboratory.” Orbital Prime is SpaceWERX’s first program under its Space Prime program.
Space Prime’s goal is to fuel innovation and investment in the rapidly expanding space market sector. As the first program under Space Prime, Orbital Prime is targeting small businesses and promoting university collaboration to spur interest and foster talent in space technology. The program’s specific goal is to develop technology and capabilities relating to On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing.
As of 2021, there are over 4,500 satellites orbiting the Earth. This amount of space congestion has to be controlled to ensure the sustainability of the space domain. To address this, Orbital Prime focuses on Active Debris Remediation as the foundation of its technologies. In short, the program will begin with space cleanup in order to develop other orbital services and capabilities like satellite refueling, repairing, and even building in space. Orbital Prime aims to complete a demonstration of this technology in two to four years.
In search of the best OASM solution, Space WERX awarded contracts to 125 proposals. Each industry team will receive $250,000 to expand on their proposed concepts and begin early design work. As with other government contracts, the competing businesses must be at least 51% US-owned and operated and all work must be performed in the United States. Although SpaceWERX only anticipated awarding 20 to 30 contracts, a greater number of proposals were received than expected. Moreover, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and it expansion to the space and cyberspace domains has highlighted the urgency of developing space-related capabilities.