On June 17, the veil was lifted on a groundbreaking project that promises to reshape military intelligence gathering and communication.

Florida’s Redwire Corporation, a leader in space infrastructure, has been chosen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to spearhead the development of a next-generation spy drone – the SabreSat.

This innovative spacecraft is a key component of DARPA’s ambitious Otter program, aiming to revolutionize capabilities at the very edge of space, known as Very Low-Earth Orbit (VLEO).

SabreSat: A Tailored VLEO Machine

SabreSat isn’t your average satellite. It’s specifically built to thrive in VLEO, an orbital region significantly closer to Earth than traditional satellites.

This strategic positioning grants SabreSat several advantages.

Firstly, it can capture crystal-clear, high-resolution imagery, providing crucial real-time visuals for battlefield analysis and target identification.

Secondly, its placement in VLEO enables low-latency communication, ensuring a near-instantaneous flow of information between ground forces and commanders, a critical factor in the fast-paced environment of modern warfare.

At A Glance: Technical Specifications

  • Size (stowed/unstowed): Modular
  • Payload size: 100 cm x 80 cm x 40 cm
  • Payload mass: ~200 kg
  • Power available: Orbit and configuration dependent, up to 5,000 W Orbit Average Power (OAP) End of Life (EOL)
  • Propulsion: Electric or air-breathing (optional)
  • Orbital altitude: > 150 km
  • Mission Lifetime: up to 7 years
  • Mission: intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations, communications, navigation

The Otter’s Secret Weapon: Air-Breathing Propulsion

Nevertheless, operating in VLEO presents a significant challenge – atmospheric drag. The thin air at such low altitudes constantly slows down orbiting objects.

This is where DARPA’s Otter program comes into play.

air-breathing EP
Phase Four “air-breathing” electric propulsion demonstration last April. (Image source: PR Newswire)

Redwire will integrate a revolutionary “air-breathing” electric propulsion system developed through the program.

Unlike traditional thrusters that rely on a limited supply of onboard propellants, these ingenious engines can essentially “breathe” the thin VLEO atmosphere, generating thrust and extending mission durations without the need for frequent resupply.

This translates to more extended deployments, increased mission flexibility, and the ability to maintain a persistent presence in this strategically valuable region.

Redwire: More Than Just Builders

Redwire’s role goes beyond simply constructing the SabreSat.

As the prime contractor, they’ll leverage their extensive expertise in VLEO environments to develop and integrate mission-critical technologies.

A key tool in their arsenal is the Digitally Engineered Mission Systems & Integration (DEMSI) platform. This sophisticated software utilizes advanced modeling techniques to anticipate and address the unique challenges of VLEO, such as the constant drag from the thin atmosphere and the detrimental effects of atomic oxygen on spacecraft materials.

By meticulously factoring in these considerations, DEMSI ensures the long-term functionality and survivability of the SabreSat in this demanding environment.

Financial details of the Redwire-DARPA Otter contract remain undisclosed, though it covers the entire project lifecycle from design to on-orbit operations.

A New Frontier for National Security

The ability to operate effectively in VLEO opens a new chapter for national security.

“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,” said Spence Wise, Redwire’s Senior Vice President for Missions and Platforms, in a press release.

SabreSat, powered by the Otter program’s innovative “air-breathing” technology, holds the potential to transform how militaries gather intelligence, conduct reconnaissance missions, and maintain secure communication channels.

This groundbreaking collaboration between Redwire and DARPA signifies a significant leap forward in VLEO technology.

The capabilities of SabreSat promise to redefine intelligence gathering and communication strategies for military operations around the globe, ensuring a decisive edge in the ever-evolving landscape of national security.

Disclaimer: SOFREP utilizes AI for image generation and article research. Occasionally, it’s like handing a chimpanzee the keys to your liquor cabinet. It’s not always perfect and if a mistake is made, we own up to it full stop. In a world where information comes at us in tidal waves, it is an important tool that helps us sift through the brass for live rounds.