Enter the Hunter Satellites Preparing for Space War
RPO itself is nothing new. In a report last September, the Secure World Foundation, a private foundation promoting cooperative solutions in space, detailed dozens of military RPO operations in geostationary and low earth orbits since the Cold War. Most of these involve American, Russian, or Chinese spacecraft sidling up to each other’s satellites, presumably to see what they look like or to eavesdrop on their communications.
There are also emerging peaceful uses of RPO, such as space tugs that can repair or relocate failed satellites, or remove dangerous space junk. The Secure World Foundation helps run an organization called Confers that is setting voluntary technical standards for commercial RPO. True Anomaly is one of around 60 Confers members. “If we ever want to do things like cleaning up space debris, we have to develop these technologies,” says Brian Weeden, the foundation’s director of planning. However, True Anomaly is the first RPO startup explicitly focusing on the military market, he says.
Rogers’s last job for the government was leading teams within US Space Command that planned how and when to deploy defensive and offensive military space systems. He and his cofounders, Dan Brunski, Tom Nichols, and Kyle Zakrzewski, also former Air Force and Space Force officers, “knew the problem better than anybody else, dealt with the limitations of technology on a day-to-day basis, and were frustrated with those limitations,” Rogers says. Rather than wait for a large industrial defense contractor to get around to it, they decided to solve the problem themselves. The deployment of space weapons by America’s rivals, he says, “is much closer than most people would think.”
According to US Security Exchange Commission filings, True Anomaly has already raised over $23 million from investors. This includes a December investment from Narya, a venture capital firm cofounded by US senator JD Vance, a MAGA-leaning Ohio Republican. (Rogers says that True Anomaly itself has no political affiliation.)
The company recently signed a lease on a 35,000-square-foot factory in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. As well as manufacturing the Jackal satellites, True Anomaly engineers are designing a cloud-based control system to integrate autonomous agents and human operators, using commercial game engines like Unity to build interactive real-time applications and developing high-fidelity physics software to help the Jackals maneuver in space. True Anomaly has already applied for a trademark covering, among other things, hardware and software for “orbital space-to-space imagery, rendezvous proximity, and target acquisition systems.”
“What is different about True Anomaly is the way it seems to be presenting its satellite as more of a pursuit system, than an imaging or an intelligence gathering system,” says Kaitlyn Johnson, deputy director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “This does concern me because it could cause unintentional escalation. Especially with the founder’s Air Force background, it might be read by our adversaries as a military-directed company that was starting to pursue this capability.”
The company’s first challenge could be keeping its own floating computers intact. “Cooperative RPO is already hard,” says Johnson. “You can see that from the demonstrations by Astroscale and Northrop with their servicing satellites, which were years in the planning.” A cooperative RPO mission by NASA in 2005 called DART failed when the spacecraft malfunctioned, crashed into its target satellite, and was destroyed.