The Air Force Research Lab has awarded a Boeing-led industry team a four-year, $49 million contract to continue work on the technology that will enable unmanned aerial vehicles to rendezvous autonomously with tanker aircraft and refuel, the company announced Feb. 5. These activities are Phase II of AFRL’s automated aerial refueling program. During Phase I, a Boeing-led team demonstrated that a single UAV could safely maneuver behind a tanker aircraft in refueling positions and conduct a breakaway maneuver. Under Phase II, the consortium, formally named the AAR integrator team, will coordinate flight tests that will include autonomous multi-ship operations and the actual delivery of fuel to a manned surrogate UAV. Boeing’s team includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, plus General Electric Aviation, Rockwell Collins, and Sierra Nevada Corp. Phase II will be divided into two parts to mature components to allow boom and receptacle and potentially probe and drogue refuelings.
The White House announced its United States Space Priorities Framework in a document released concurrently with Vice President Kamala Harris' first National Space Council meeting. Listed among five U.S. priorities is to “defend its national security interests from the growing scope and scale of space and counterspace threats.”