A public-private partnership with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) has been established by Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA) to provide a Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services (CIRAS) in space—the CIRAS program will advance key technologies for on orbit manufacturing and assembly of large space structures that will help the agency meet their goals for robotic and human exploration of the solar system.
Orbital ATK will serve as prime contractor of CIRAS, with support provided from the firm's wholly owned subsidiary, Space Logistics, LLC, along with NASA’s Langley Research Center, NASA’s Glenn Research Center and the US Naval Research Laboratory.
Phase one of CIRAS began in September 2016 and will last a total of two years. During this time period, Orbital ATK will lead the team in maturing technologies necessary for robotic assembly of large space structures, such as next-generation telescopes or solar-powered structures for transport or communications. These capabilities include methods to connect or disconnect joints on a structure and address precision measuring and alignment through a 15 meter robotic arm and a precision robot. The team will also develop the technology needed to conduct on orbit modular assembly of structures, allowing parts to be brought to space as needed via multiple launches, which simplifies the design of spacecraft and reduces cost.
CIRAS is one of three programs awarded under the NASA STMD’s "Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” solicitation. This program called upon commercial companies to mature technologies beyond their “tipping point” with the goal of enabling private industry to develop and qualify them for market, stimulating the commercial space industry while delivering technologies and capabilities needed for future NASA missions and commercial applications.
Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK Space Systems Group President, indicated that Orbital ATK and their Space Logistics, LLC, subsidiary are pioneering the future of commercial space technology. Through this partnership and the first phase of the contract award, the company will demonstrate their space logistics capabilities with new robotics technology. The CIRAS team will create technologies that will advance the nation’s capability for building the framework needed for NASA’s journey to Mars, as well as shape the future of commercial space infrastructure.
Tom Wilson, the President of Space Logistics LLC, added that the company is well on its way to providing the industry’s first on orbit satellite life extension service with the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV). During CIRAS, Space Logistics will build upon the MEV’s existing capabilities, such as rendezvous and docking. This is an amazing opportunity to execute the firm's roadmap to develop the technologies and lower the risks of delivering higher value, more sophisticated space logistics to support many civil and commercial mission opportunities in the future.