How do you capture and berth a satellite that wasn't built for docking? You build robotic arm systems that can grab a satellite, but they come at a hefty cost.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded $20.7 to Space Systems Loral (SSL) to design and build robotic arm flight hardware for the agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program. Building on contracts announced in both 2012 and 2013 for prior DARPA research into space robotics, the total contract value awarded now stands at over $40 million, and could grow further if all remaining options are exercised.
SSL is receiving the funds through MDA US Systems, a division of MDA managed by SSL, and is working with the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), which is managing the robotic arm contract for the RSGS program.
Al Tadros, vice president, Civil and DOD Business at SSL stated, “The ability to safely and cooperatively service satellites in GEO would expand public and private opportunities in space. It could enable entirely new spacecraft designs and operations, including on-orbit assembly and maintenance, which could lower construction and deployment costs while extending satellite utility, resilience and reliability.”
The goal of the RSGS program is to cooperatively inspect, capture, reposition, repair, and upgrade GEO spacecraft. The DARPA-developed hardware and software toolkit, which includes the robotic arms, is planned to be integrated onto a commercially owned and operated servicing vehicle to provide on-demand servicing in space.
Steve Oldham, vice president, Strategic Business Development at SSL remarked, "Our work with DARPA and the US Naval Research Laboratory leverages many years of experience with robotics applications in space. We are very pleased to participate in the RSGS flight demonstration program, which is expected to make on-orbit servicing a reality.”
SSL has the ability to build on robotics technologies proven on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and the Mars lander and rovers. The company recently announced other missions with the US government and is working with DARPA and NASA to develop robotic on-orbit satellite assembly. SSL is also the industry partner for a potential NASA Discovery Program mission to the asteroid Psyche and is participating in a first-phase study for a spacecraft bus for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission.