The Space Force has been tracking, and complaining about, spacecraft launched by China and Russia that fly up to American military satellites and appear inspect them at close range. The US doesn’t have any (publicly disclosed) ability to do that; its most maneuverable vehicle, the X-37B, has not shown that it can approach other spacecraft and remain in close proximity.

Rogers stresses that “intelligence has always been a critical enabler of stability globally.” By examining other satellites, True Anomaly could determine if they carry weapons or have the ability to harm other spacecraft. The US Space Force says that Russian and Chinese satellites do have those capabilities—they can launch a high-speed projectile, and deploy a robotic grappling claw, respectively.


If the Space Force decides to purchase these spacecraft or their services, its criticism of rival inspector spacecraft may seem hollow. But Rogers says those operations were “unsafe and professional,” whereas the US is “committed to a establishing a rules-based order, operating in a way that’s safe and professional and consistent over time.” A natural comparison is to the kind of escorts that militaries often provide rivals in international airspace—which could be “routine” interactions or more haphazard encounters.

Can True Anomaly deliver the hardware?

The right ideas about what kind of tools the military needs aren’t any good if True Anomaly can’t do the hard job of building and operating spacecraft. One positive sign is that company, founded in March 2022, is planning to fly its first two spacecraft by the end of 2023.


But the technical challenge they have isn’t easy. Northrop Grumman is one of the few private companies that has built a spacecraft capable of autonomously approaching another object in space, inspecting it, and remaining in place nearby. Another, AstroScale, launched a pilot mission in 2021 that was able to snag a stationary target equipped with a magnetic plate, but not a tumbling one. The most advanced technology on NASA’s recent mission to the asteroid Dimorphos was the software that allowed it to target the space object autonomously.

Rogers is cognizant of the challenges—he coined the term “orbital engagement manuevers,” and spent both a stint at DARPA, the Pentagon’s technology development arm, and an internship at NASA working on these ideas.


True Anomaly is focused on ensuring there is enough computing power onboard the spacecraft to run software that can quickly react to feedback from its sensors, Rogers says. And unlike some other companies that aim to be the Department of Defense’s favorite satellite-maker while picking up business from academia or the private and civil space sectors, True Anomaly is betting on delivering right away for its target customer.

“We’re not trying to play the game of organic growth,” Rogers explains. Instead the goal is to “use private capital to do all the development and provide a complete solution.”


And Pentagon decision-makers may be ready to reward them. Tournear, the SDA chief, answers his own question about whether spacecraft could be built quickly enough: “We’re building up industry, so yes, we can.”

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