MDA, Intelsat Terminate Satellite Servicing Agreement

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) has announced that an agreement with Intelsat to provide on-orbit servicing to the company’s communications satellites has been terminated. Intelsat had served as an anchor tenant for the Canadian company’s Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) initiative.

In a press release, MDA said it has not made a decision on whether to proceed with SIS, but that it was exploring options.

“MDA is continuing to pursue opportunities in this area and is currently focused on bidding a space servicing Broad Agency Announcement from a U.S. Government agency, which is due in February,” the company said in a press release. Both NASA and DARPA are looking at satellite servicing.

Under the $280 million Intelsat deal, which was announced last March, the two companies worked together to finalize specifications and requirements for a servicing satellite that could refuel, maintain and repair Intelsat’s orbiting spacecraft. The first mission was to have taken place 3.5 years after the beginning of the build phase.

“The SIS vehicle’s robotic arm will not only be used in refueling, but could also be used to perform critical maintenance and repair tasks, such as releasing jammed deployable arrays and stabilizing or towing smaller space objects or debris. Intelsat, the world’s largest operator of commercial satellites in the geosynchronous arc, is expected to provide flight operations support for the SIS vehicle for the life of the mission,” the company said in a press release last year.

MDA selected Intelsat as an anchor tenant to access the lucrative American market.

“We are very pleased to have Intelsat, the world’s leading provider of fixed satellite services, as the anchor customer for our new SIS offering and our partner in accessing the US government market,” said MDA President and CEO Dan Friedmann. “There is a clear need to service the world’s space infrastructure, both commercial and government. The combination of MDA’s unparalleled and proven space servicing capabilities and Intelsat’s commercial and government market presence is a good way to get this new service off the ground.”

In November, Friedmann said the two companies had put the SIS initiative on hold due to uncertainty over whether MDA would be able to bid on U.S. contracts through its American subsidiary. He indicated at the time that Intelsat was being patient but would not wait for an answer indefinitely.

  • dr

    I am hoping that this market is something that will emerge, once Spacex improve their launch rate and the Antares rocket is operational.
    My understanding is that the business case for this market doesn’t close very well, if you assume $200m per launch but at $60m – $70m per launch it does.
    If that is the case, then this could be the first new industry created as a direct result of the reduction in launch prices created by the emergence of the Falcon 9 and Taurus 2(Antares) rockets.
    My guess is that this market will require somewhere between 2 and 6 launches per year.
    Whilst this isn’t a huge number, in Newspace economies of scale are hugely important and in my opinion any industries that can be created to increase the launch rate is a good thing, because in principle increasing launch rate should cut prices for everyone.

  • dr

    I hope that if NASA and DARPA are looking at this, they will use the seed money approach of the COTS or CCDEV procurements to create this capability in the private sector, rather than creating this capability in the government, and then using it to compete with private businesses.

  • Paul451

    “I hope that if NASA and DARPA are looking at this”

    NASA is currently doing a refuelling experiment (dummy hardware), “Robotic Refueling Mission” (using the Dextre arm which I think was also build by MDA.) And USAF (not DARPA) has done simple fuel-transfer tests on specially built dummy satellites. But I think they’d have to be careful effectively subsidising a Canadian company, leaves them at risk of mindless Congressional bashing.

    (That said, I agree with your assessment. And I think a bunch of people at NASA (and USAF-Spaceflight) do to, which is why they’re trying to squeeze these programs into their respective budgets. But it doesn’t seem to have support from above.