Posted: 16 September 2016, 8:50 a.m. EDT
Panelists: Moderator Greg Scott, space roboticist, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. James B. Armor Jr., staff vice president, Washington Operations, Orbital ATK; Charles Bacon, chief cooperative servicing engineer and Restore-L systems engineer, Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, NASA; Steve Jolly, chief engineer, Civil Space, Lockheed Martin Space Systems; Steve Oldham, senior vice president of strategic business development, SSL; Gordon Roesler, program manager, Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites, DARPA
by Hannah Thoreson, AIAA Communications
Despite the barriers, on-orbit servicing is on the near-term horizon, and once the technology materializes, it will save time and money, according to a panel of experts speaking Sept. 14 at AIAA SPACE 2016 in Long Beach, California.
“What we’re looking at is doing repair of satellites in space,” Greg Scott, a space roboticist with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, said in his introduction of the “On-Orbit Satellite Servicing” panel. “’Repair’ is maybe a very high-level generalization of what we would do.”
Scott said many countries and organizations are moving forward with concepts that work in the on-orbit servicing area. He said they’re “really trying to push the paradigm of, do we need to relaunch $2 billion assets every time, or are there ways that we can reduce costs by having a servicing system in space?”
Charles Bacon, chief cooperative servicing engineer and Restore-L systems engineer with NASA, said Restore-L is NASA’s flagship on-orbit servicing mission.
“It’s going to bring together all the technologies that we’ve spent the last seven or so years developing,” he said. “It’s going to launch in about the 2020 time frame to go refuel LANDSAT-7, which is a government entity that’s kind of nearing the end of its life.”
Restore-L will use autonomous capabilities to rendezvous with LANDSAT-7 to extend its life through refueling and relocation.
Gordon Roeseler, program manager for Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites with DARPA, said on-orbit servicing of existing satellites could also include upgrading those satellites with new capabilities. He also highlighted on-orbit servicing as a way for satellite operators to maintain their competitive advantage in the marketplace.
“If we’re also able to add new payloads to existing spacecraft, I think there are opportunities for entrepreneurs to put new sensors, new communications systems, on orbit onto the geocommunications satellites,” Roeseler explained.
Participants in the panel discussion "On-Orbit Satellite Servicing," on Wednesday, 15 September, at AIAA SPACE 2016, taking place 13–16 September 2016, in Long Beach, CA.
Others emphasized the need for a business case for on-orbit servicing. Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. James B. Armor Jr., a staff vice president at Orbital ATK, described his efforts in getting the Mission Extension Vehicle to market.
“When I got into the industry about 2009, I discovered that making the business case is just as hard or harder than envisioning and testing some of the technology that we’re doing,” he said.
Steve Oldham, senior vice president of strategic business development with SSL, also talked about the challenges that stand in the way of making on-orbit servicing economical.
“There are really five barriers that I’m going to talk about here that get in the way of us doing this: technical barriers, architecture barriers, policy barriers, insurance barriers and cost barriers,” he said. “And my assertion is, we’re over the hump with all of these. But that doesn’t mean we have a satellite-servicing paradigm and infrastructure available yet.”
Oldham envisions a future with on-demand satellite servicing instead of planned missions to do repairs or relocations.
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