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CHIPS Articles: Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program completes preliminary design review

Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program completes preliminary design review
By CHIPS Magazine - August 20, 2018
DARPA has completed a major review milestone for its Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites, or RSGS, program. Results from a recently completed preliminary design review confirmed that the robotic payload design is on track to fulfill a multi-year mission to service at least 20 commercial and government spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The robotic payload is coupled with a spacecraft bus that Space Systems Loral (SSL) is providing through a partnership agreement.

“The technical challenges of servicing satellites 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,” DARPA stated in a release.

During the July review, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, selected by DARPA to build the robotic payload, presented critical design and integration products ranging from interface control documents to plans for testing and verification and validation. NRL has more than 15 years of experience in space robotics, focusing on control algorithms, system architectures, and robot laboratory testing facilities.

In addition, several program components have advanced beyond the preliminary design review stage, DARPA said. Flight versions of two dexterous robotic manipulator arms, which will allow up-close inspection, repair and installation of technical packages on the exterior of U.S. satellites, are in production and are expected to deliver in 2019. SSL is meeting requirements for the systems review for the spacecraft bus in October 2018. Launch of the RSGS robot servicing vehicle is targeted for 2021.

After DARPA completes an on-orbit checkout and demonstration phase, SSL would operate the vehicle and make cooperative servicing available to both military and commercial geosynchronous orbit satellite owners on a fee-for-service basis, DARPA said. In exchange for providing property to SSL, the government will obtain reduced-priced servicing of its satellites and access to commercial satellite servicing data throughout the operational life of the RSGS spacecraft.

The RSGS program shares characteristics with two other pertinent programs. The first is the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS), which DARPA aims to transition to a permanent, self-sustaining, and independent forum where industry and government collaborate for on-orbit servicing. The second is NASA’s Restore-L mission, which will provide certain servicing options for satellites in Low-Earth orbit. Team members across all three programs collaborate to share insights and lessons learned.

Flight-scale manipulator arms on the robotic operations test-bed (ROTB) for the RSGS robotic payload are on display during the preliminary design review in July. DARPA image.
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