MDA to participate in US Satellite Servicing Demonstration

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) has announced that it has been selected as a key participant to support the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Phoenix Program.

MDA will provide a variety of servicing technologies and capabilities to the program, under multiple contracts to DARPA and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

The goal of the DARPA Phoenix Program is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively repurpose valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost. The mission will use a robotic on-orbit servicer, and components launched alongside commercial satellites.

The program also hopes to transition its developing technologies into sustainable commercial applications, that in turn support U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) needs in the future, and MDA is under contract from DARPA to assist with defining this commercialization plan as well.

"MDA's heritage of robotics and on-orbit servicing successes are a good match for the DARPA Phoenix program. We look forward to working with DARPA to demonstrate space infrastructure servicing" said Daniel Friedmann, president and CEO of MDA.

During the last Space Shuttle mission in July 2011, a Robotic Refuelling Mission test article was taken to the ISS on the last space shuttle mission. Since then the CSA's Dextre robot has performed tasks on this test article to prove the concepts of satellite refuelling.

This multi-year program represents a significant opportunity for MDA to demonstrate certain aspects of on-orbit servicing. It is an opportunity many felt would not be possible.

There has been some concern that MDA would not be able to participate in US Government satellite servicing projects as it might only be available to US companies.

This changed this past summer when MDA purchased Space Systems/Loral though that deal is still pending final regulatory clearance. This purchase opens up opportunities to MDA in the US such as working with DARPA.

MDA's past work on the space shuttle and International Space Stations two robotic arms will be an asset with this contract. MDA is working with the Naval Research Laboratory via DARPA to provide two new primary robotic manipulator arms.

Assuming all phases of the program are funded, the total scope for that element of the program, which is sole-sourced from MDA, is expected to not exceed $27.2 million.

In addition, MDA has also been awarded two separate contracts from DARPA that will develop key robotic servicing technologies. These include advanced robotic tools, cameras, tool caddies, and advanced designs for a hyper-dexterous robot.

To save on costs and to get into space frequently, plans are to have these servicing satellites 'piggyback' on the launches of other satellites. MDA is under contract from DARPA to design and prototype the delivery system in which the components are sent to orbit (called PODS).

Phase 1 of the program is under contract now and MDA's scope (not including the sole-sourced robotics arms) is approximately $2.6 million, which is expected to grow when Phase 2 gets underway next year.

It is unclear at this time if MDA's previous Space Infrastructure Servicing program for which Intelsat was its anchor tenant will get started again dues to these recent events.

Related:
- ISS Robotic Refuelling Mission Problematic For MDA
- Loral to Sell Space Systems/Loral to MDA in a Transaction That Delivers More Than US$1 Billion of Pre-Tax Value to Loral
- MDA Signs Intelsat as Anchor Tenant for On-Orbit Servicing