Space Systems Loral (SSL) has signed and executed an agreement with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop advanced capabilities for servicing and maintaining spacecraft in geostationary orbit.
SSL announced in February that it had been selected by DARPA to develop the capability to service and maintain spacecraft and other infrastructure in the geostationary arc. The company hopes that DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) programme will be the foundation of a new business that will serve both commercial and government operators with repair, upgrade, relocation, and refueling of on-orbit assets.
Under the agreement drafted jointly by DARPA and SSL, the two entities would share costs and responsibilities for the programme. Because this type of public-private arrangement was unpredented for DARPA, it was submitted for review by the Defense Department’s Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
The agreement comes in spite of a pending legal challenge from Orbital ATK which is proposing its own satellite-servicing venture. Orbital is asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to halt work on RSGS on the grounds that the programme violates U.S. space policy provisions aimed at preventing the government from competing with commercial ventures. DARPA has filed a motion to dismiss that suit.
Under the DARPA-SSL deal, SSL will provide a spacecraft to carry the robotic servicing payload and will manage integration and operation of the spacecraft. DARPA will contribute the robotics technology, expertise, and a government-provided launch. SSL’s parent company, MDA, will add a refueling capability to the RSGS programme.
When launched, RSGS will have the capability to perform multiple servicing missions for both planned and urgent customer needs, including: high-resolution inspection; refueling; correction of mechanical anomalies; assistance with relocation and other orbital maneuvers; and installation of attachable payloads, enabling upgrades to existing assets. The company will market these services as a commercial business and says that it is already in discussion with several customers.