Program Aims to Facilitate Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites


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By executing the RSGS program, DARPA seeks to:

  • Demonstrate in or near GEO that a robotic servicing vehicle can perform safe, reliable, useful and efficient operations, with the flexibility to adapt to a variety of on-orbit missions and conditions
  • Demonstrate satellite servicing mission operations on operational GEO satellites in collaboration with commercial and U.S. Government spacecraft operators
  • Support the development of a servicer spacecraft with sufficient propellant and payload robustness to enable dozens of missions over several years

After a successful on-orbit demonstration of the robotic servicing vehicle, U.S. Government and commercial satellite operators would have ready access to diverse capabilities including high-resolution inspection; correction of some mission-ending mechanical anomalies, such as solar array and antenna deployment malfunctions; assistance with relocation and other orbital maneuvers; and installation of attachable payloads, enabling upgrades to existing assets. Satellite operators would be able to purchase these services on request to the robotic servicing vehicle operator.

A critical component of the RSV would be the robotic arm developed by DARPA known as FREND. Constructed to enable automated, cooperative connection to satellites that are not designed for docking, the FREND arm has multiple joints enabling dexterous movement and can carry and switch among multiple generic and mission-specific tools. DARPA will augment the arm by adding advanced algorithms for machine vision and supervised autonomous robotic operations. Also new will be onboard mission-planning software and a variety of sensors designed to provide reliable, high-fidelity spatial orientation information, essential for safely guiding the spacecraft with its robotic systems on orbit.

“In addition to these technical advances, a key goal of the RSGS program is to establish best practices and voluntary standards for space servicing operations,” said Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, which oversees RSGS. “Government and industry need to work together to set safety standards as well as to take advantage of the servicer’s new capabilities.”

DARPA plans to kick off the public-private partnership via a Program Solicitation in the near future. Shortly thereafter, DARPA will host a Proposers Day to provide potential partners with further technical and programmatic details about the RSGS program. The date of issue of the Solicitation and the date and location of the Proposers Day have yet to be determined.

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