NASA Tests Autopilot Sensors During Simulations

A model of a satellite aft end on a robot for simulated, controlled rendezvous at the Space Operations Simulation Center. (Credit: NASA)

DENVER (NASA PR) — Inside a large, black-walled facility outside Denver, NASA’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division (SSPD) team successfully completed the latest testing of three rendezvous and proximity operations sensors used for satellite servicing applicatons and beyond. These sensors are needed for autonomous rendezvous of spacecraft, which is a vital technology for robotically servicing a satellite.

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Orbital ATK Begins Assembly of Commercial Satellite Servicing System

DULLES, Virginia 11 September 2017 (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced significant progress on the industry’s first commercial in-space satellite servicing system. The Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) spacecraft successfully completed its critical design review earlier this year and is now in production with about 75% of the platform and payload components already delivered to the company’s Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft will begin system-level testing in spring 2018 with launch planned late next year. MEV-1 will provide satellite life extension services to its anchor customer, Intelsat S.A., beginning in early 2019.

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SSL, NASA Complete PDR on Restore-L Servicing Satellite

Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

PALO ALTO, Calif., August 8, 2017 (Space Systems Loral PR) Space Systems Loral (SSL), a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, today announced that it successfully completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for NASA’s Restore-L mission to provide satellite servicing in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  With the completion of the PDR, Restore-L is proceeding on schedule to the next phase of development and its launch in 2020.

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House Appropriations Committee Boosts NASA’s Budget

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ignoring the Trump’s Administration’s fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget request, the House Appropriations Committee has voted to boost NASA’ spending to $19.88 billion, including significant increases to the space agency’s Exploration and Planetary Science programs.

The appropriations bill is an increase of $779.8 million over Trump’s requested budget of $19.09 billion. It would increase NASA’s budget by $218.5 million over the $19.65 billion the space agency is receiving in FY 2017.

NASA’s Exploration program, which includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, would be boosted by $226 million to $4.55 billion under the House measure. The administration had requested $3.93 billion, a cut of $390 million under current spending.

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Court Throws Out Orbital ATK Lawsuit Over DARPA Satellite Servicing Contract

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

Well, some bad news and maybe some good news for Orbital ATK in its battle against a DARPA-backed satellite servicing venture.

U.S. District Court dismissed Orbital ATK’s lawsuit against a U.S. government effort to develop an in-orbit robotic servicing vehicle with contractor Space Systems/Loral (SSL), saying the court has no standing to challenge an agency program.

In its July 12 decision, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia suggested that Orbital’s basic argument — that U.S. policy encourages government agencies to turn to the private sector for technology rather than develop competing technology — had merit.

The problem for Orbital, the court concluded, is that it sought to cancel an entire U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program and not a specific element of it….

DARPA awarded an RSGS contract to SSL in February 2017 after a competitive bidding process in which Orbital did not participate as a bidder, but rather as a kind of informal protester asking DARPA to change the program. DARPA considers that Orbital’s response was in fact a non-compliant bid.

Orbital ATK’s argument is that the DARPA/SSL project competes against a satellite servicing program the company has been developing with its own money. Thus, it runs counter to U.S. policy to promote commercial space development and competition.

MDA Forms Space Infrastructure Services for Satellite Servicing

Satellite refueling mission (Credit: MDA)

SAN FRANCISCO, June 28, 2017 (SSL MDA PR) — SSL MDA Holdings Inc., a global communications and information company, today announced important milestones in its progress to bring transformational on-orbit satellite servicing to market.

Space Infrastructure Services LLC (SIS), a new U.S. company, will commercialize sophisticated satellite servicing capabilities, including refueling. SIS will be majority owned by Finance Technology Leverage LLC (FTL), a global investment company headquartered in Silicon Valley, along with other U.S. investors, with SSL MDA Holdings maintaining a minority ownership share.  Full financing for the venture is expected to conclude in the coming weeks.

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Orbital ATK Completes PDR for Part of Mission Extension Vehicle System


DULLES, Va., June 20, 2017 (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced the completion of its Rendezvous, Proximity Operations and Docking (RPOD) system preliminary design review.

The RPOD system comprises the sensors, actuators and control algorithms which allow for the detection, tracking, and safe approach to a client spacecraft. The company’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) will provide satellite life extension services to Intelsat S.A. beginning in 2019.

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Congressional Budget Gives NASA $19.6 Billion

NASA would receive $19.653 billion for fiscal year 2017 under an Omnibus spending bill released on Monday by Congressional appropriators, an increase of more than $600 million requested by the Obama Administration. NASA received just under $19.3 billion in FY 2016.

The bill was released seven months into the 2017 fiscal year. The government has been operating on continuing resolutions since the year began last Oct. 1.

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SSL, DARPA Sign Satellite Servicing Agreement

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

PALO ALTO, Calif., April 12, 2017 (SSL PR) Space Systems Loral (SSL), a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, today announced that it 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.  Details of the partnership were previously released on February 9, 2017.

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Space Systems Loral Sues Orbital ATK Over Alleged Theft of Trade Secrets

Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

Even before the first robotic satellite servicing mission is launched, there have been two — count ’em, two — robotic satellite servicing lawsuits.

Space Systems/Loral is suing rival Orbital ATK over an alleged theft of proprietary data and business plans for an in-space satellite servicing technology, according to a complaint filed on Thursday.

The lawsuit is the second in six weeks involving the companies and their efforts to start a new industry servicing and repairing satellites in orbit.

At least four confidential SSL documents were viewed and distributed by an Orbital ATK employee working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where the data is stored as part of an ongoing SSL partnership with the U.S. space agency, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia….

SSL, a subsidiary of Canada-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., said it was informed of the data breach by NASA in December 2016.

Orbital acknowledged the unauthorized access of SSL’s data and fired the employee, but did not respond to questions about the scope of the breach or about five other Orbital employees whom NASA said may have read the SSL documents, the lawsuit said.

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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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Members of Congress Urge DARPA to Reconsider Satellite Servicing Program

Four members of Congress have sent letters to DARPA asking the defense agency to review a satellite servicing program they believe duplicates other efforts by a commercial company and NASA.

“We are concerned that DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellite (RSGS) program is duplicating commercial investment and capability in violation of National Space Policy and contrary to the best interests of taxpayers,” reads one letter signed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).

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