NASA to Fund Made in Space Project to Develop In-space Laser Welding System

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Made in Space for a small business award to develop a system capable of autonomously welding structures in space.

The Mobile End-Effector Laser Device (MELD) would be capable of welding “aerospace-grade metals to assemble large, stable structures on-orbit or on the lunar or Martian surface. These include trusses, arrays, habitats, and pressure vessels,” according to the proposal summary.

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SSL Pulls Out of DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program satellite. (Credit: DARPA)

PALO ALTO, CA, Jan. 30, 2019 /CNW/ – SSL, a Maxar Technologies company (NYSE:MAXR) (TSX:MAXR), and a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, today announced it has exercised its right to terminate participation in the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), citing a need to focus its resources on ensuring optimal returns when weighed against other capital priorities, such as WorldView Legion. SSL remains unwavering in its commitment to its customers on all existing contracts.

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DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) Program Fact Sheet

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program satellite. (Credit: DARPA)

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) Program
Fact Sheet

Overview

National security increasingly demands a high degree of flexibility on orbit, including an ability to repair and upgrade satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The technical challenges of performing such functions in GEO are significant, but success could substantially revolutionize military and commercial space operations, lower satellite construction and deployment costs, and improve satellite lifespan, resilience, and reliability—precisely the kind of high risk/high reward opportunity that DARPA was created to pursue. RSGS is a research and demonstration effort that aims to speed the arrival of capabilities such as high-resolution inspection; correction of otherwise mission-ending mechanical anomalies such as solar array and antenna deployment malfunctions; assistance with relocation and other orbital maneuvers; and installation of attachable payloads, enabling upgrades to existing assets.
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DARPA Selects Space Systems Loral for GEO Satellite Servicing Mission

DARPA RSGS Robotic Servicing Vehicle utilizing MDA US Systems robotic arms to repair a satellite on orbit. (Source: DARPA)

WASHNIGTON (DARPA PR) — In an important step toward a new era of advanced, cost-effective robotic capabilities in space, DARPA today announced that it has selected Space Systems Loral (SSL), based in Palo Alto, CA, as its commercial partner for the Agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

DARPA and SSL seek to develop technologies that would enable cooperative inspection and servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), more than 20,000 miles above the Earth, and demonstrate those technologies on orbit. If successful, this research and demonstration effort would open the door to radically lowering the risks and costs of operating in GEO, a harsh and difficult-to-access domain that is critically important for both military and civilian space assets.

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Orbital ATK Sues to Stop DARPA Satellite Servicing Program


Orbital ATK has filed a lawsuit against DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, arguing that it competes with its own Mission Extension Vehicle program.

Under the public-private partnership envisioned by DARPA, an industry partner would eventually be able to profit from RSGS by offering robotic satellite servicing to commercial and government entities. Meanwhile, the government would be able to buy those services at a reduced price.

But Orbital ATK says that the program violates the National Space Policy, which states that the government should not subsidize space-related activities that private entities are willing to invest in on their own. The company has been developing its own servicing vehicle, the Mission Extension Vehicle, has already booked Intelsat as its first customer and is set for a 2018 launch.

“The U.S. National Space Policy explicitly directs government agencies to avoid funding activities that are already in development in the commercial marketplace,” the company said in a statement. “Orbital ATK will continue to pursue all available options to oppose DARPA from moving forward with this illegal and wasteful use of U.S. taxpayer dollars.”

DARPA declined to comment on pending legal action, but has been adamant that its program does not flout U.S. space policy. In a Feb. 3 letter to Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., DARPA acting director Steven Walker said the agency had conducted a review of the program, as requested by the lawmaker.

“We believe the program is consistent with the 2010 National Space policy,” Walker wrote.

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