DARPA teams with Northrop Grumman to build robotic service satellite
DARPA has entered into a partnership with Northrop Grumman subsidiary Space Logistics LLC to develop robotic technologies for servicing and extending the service lives of orbital satellites. Based on the Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1), which recently docked with a communication satellite in geosynchronous orbit, the technology will be used by the agency's Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program to develop a dexterous robotic servicer that would be operated by private companies.
Founded in 2016, the RSGS program completed a Payload Critical Design Review in 2019 and is developing key technologies in the run up to the first space launch scheduled for 2023. As part of this effort, DARPA says it is funding the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to bring together components like the robotic manipulator arms, a variety of interchangeable tools, cameras, sensors, software, and avionics into a functioning robotic payload.
Meanwhile, Space Logistics will provide the spacecraft bus based on the MEV and integrate the robotic payload, as well as providing launch and orbital operation services. Once the spacecraft has been checked out and demonstrated its capabilities, the technology will be marketed to commercial and government organizations.
"DARPA remains committed to a commercial partnership for the execution of the RSGS mission," says Michael Leahy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. "Building upon the successes of the DARPA Orbital Express mission and the recent successful docking of Space Logistics’ Mission Extension Vehicle-1, the agency seeks to bring dexterous on-orbit servicing to spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), and to establish that inspection, repair, life extension, and improvement of our valuable GEO assets can be made possible and even routine."