Friday, September 5, 2014

Robotic Satellite-Servicing Capabilities in Geostationary Earth Orbit

DARPA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking technical and business insights to support the agency's pursuit of technologies and industry partnerships that would enable robotic servicing missions in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO).

The agency is considering the possibilities of integrating DARPA-developed space robotics technologies onto commercial spacecraft to create a jointly developed GEO robotic servicer.

The commercially owned-and-operated servicer would work cooperatively with client satellites to support a variety of multi-year on-orbit missions, including inspection, correction of mechanical problems and orbit adjustment.

DARPA seeks to create a capability that could both maximize the utility of current space infrastructure and lead to revolutionary future capabilities.

An increasing number of expensive, mission-critical satellites are launched every year into geostationary Earth orbit (GEO), approximately 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the Earth.

Unlike objects in low Earth orbit (LEO), such as the Hubble Space Telescope, satellites in GEO are essentially unreachable with current technology.

As a result, these satellites are designed to operate without any upgrades or repairs for their entire lifespan-a methodology that demands increased size, complexity and cost.

The ability to safely and cooperatively interact with satellites in GEO would immediately revolutionize military and commercial space operations alike, lowering satellite construction and deployment costs and improving satellite lifespan, resilience and reliability.

To expedite these potential benefits, DARPA is considering a flight demonstration to introduce DARPA-developed space robotics capabilities in GEO within the next five years.

Because the majority of satellites in GEO are commercially owned, DARPA is particularly interested in establishing a public-private partnership that would make cooperative robotic servicing available to both military and commercial GEO satellite owners on a fee-for-service basis.

The partnership would help develop near-term technical capabilities and significantly contribute toward the creation of a sustainable, commercially owned-and-operated space robotics enterprise.

DARPA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking technical, security and business insights to support the agency's pursuit of these goals.

"We're asking the space community to think hard about how they want the future of space operations to look and how GEO robotics could help," said Gordon Roesler, DARPA program manager.

"Their insights are essential as we take the first concrete steps toward viable satellite-servicing capabilities in GEO. If we're successful, we will significantly accelerate development of a capacity to maximize the utility of current space infrastructure and enhance the capabilities of future systems."

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