AFRL rolls-out new rapid contract award tool for space technology research

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — The Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate here is using a rapid acquisition capability called Space Technology Advanced Research (STAR) that accelerates contract award times.

Through the STAR solicitation, the lab has made four rapid contract awards totaling $9.8 million. The most recent award was to SolAero Technologies of Albuquerque for $4.5 million to develop “Next Generation Solar Power Modules.”

“The STAR announcement was published in July 2019 on the U.S. Government’s Contracting Opportunities website ( and is open to U.S. contractors of all sizes – large or small businesses,” said John Beauchemin, acting STAR program manager. “It takes advantage of a unique statutory authority that is not bound by the bureaucracy of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, which enables us to get to an award much quicker than is typical.”

AFRL exceeded expectations in taking only 55 days for the SolAero contract award – with a mere 12 days from proposal receipt to award. The average time from proposal receipt to award using traditional contract procedures is about 115 days.

“The SolAero award of 55 days was a special case,” Beauchemin said. “Thanks to the heroic efforts of our technical and contracting staff, we pushed the process to its limits in order to infuse needed cash into the space industrial base at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and demonstrate the ‘art of the possible’ for rapid contracting.”

Under the innovative STAR program, the announcement remains open, meaning there are no due dates for submitting ideas, and there is no sunset date – the solicitation will remain active as long as it continues to provide value to the government.

“Submissions are made using what is called a ‘two-step process’— interested parties first submit a short five-page white paper that summarizes their solution to a relevant space-related problem and includes a rough estimate of what it will cost,” Beauchemin said. “The government evaluates the paper against criteria published in the announcement. If the idea is found to have merit and there is sufficient funding to pursue it, we invite the company to submit a full proposal.”

AFRL’s other contract awards under the STAR solicitation have been to Tethers Unlimited, Inc., Bothell, Wash. ($1.17 million); Hart Scientific Consulting International, LLC, Tucson, Ariz. ($310 thousand); and Advanced Photon Sciences, LLC, Essex Junction, Vt. ($3.9 million).

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Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate researcher shown characterizing the performance of space solar cells under simulated space sunlight. Under this new AFRL contract award, SolAero Technologies will be using cells similar to these to develop modular “building blocks” that can be assembled more rapidly and affordably than traditional highly specialized solar array designs. Photo credit: AFRL