Altius, MDA and SS/L Among Winners in DARPA ZombieSat Project

Phoenix satellite concept. (Credit: DARPA)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Jonathan Goff’s Altius Space Machines is among five companies and a NASA field center sharing about $36 million in contract awards in DARPA’s Phoenix Technologies program, which aims to harvest components from dead satellites for reuse.

Space News reports that Goff’s Louisville, Colo., company will build an extendable boom for the Phoenix spacecraft. DARPA would not reveal how much Altius will receive under the contract.

Other winners of Phoenix contracts include: Space Systems/Loral; Intelsat; MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates; NovaWurks; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

According to the Space News story, contract awards posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, and information released by NovaWurks, the following contracts have awarded:

NovaWurks, Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.: $2,859,852. NovaWurk described its work in a press release:

“A payload orbital delivery system, or PODS, will also be designed to safely house the Satlets for transport aboard a commercial satellite launch as a hosted payload. A separate on-orbit ‘tender,’ or satellite servicing spacecraft is also expected to be built and launched into GEO. Once the tender arrives on-orbit, the PODS would then be released from its ride-along host and link up with the tender to become part of the satellite servicer’s ‘tool belt.’ The tender plans to be equipped with grasping mechanical arms for removing the Satlets and components from the PODS using unique robotic tools to be developed in the program.”

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Inc. (MDA), Brampton, Ont.: Base $1,940,478, Option $2,190,758. No work description available.

Intelsat General Corporation, Washington, D.C.: Award amount unknown. Intelsat will study interfaces needed to transport small satellites for the demo mission as hosted payloads aboard larger commercial satellites.

Space Systems/Loral, Palo Alto, Calif.: Award amount unknown. SS/L will study ways of transporting the small satellites to geosynchronous orbit and ejecting from the larger satellite for collection by the Phoenix spacecraft.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.: Award amount unknown. JPL will supply its “Gecko Gripper” adhesive. I found this description of the adhesive on NASA’s website:

“JPL’s adhesive mimics a gecko’s adhesive system. Geckos adhere to surfaces using arrays of hierarchical hairs with features at the mm, µm, and nm scales that generate enough van der Waals forces to support the animal’s weight. The directional bias of these hairs provides a means of turning the adhesion ON and OFF through an applied shear load, a behavior also seen in JPL’s two-stage mm-µm synthetic structures. In practice, the applied shear load is generated through a slight sliding motion. Once activated in such a manner, a pad will resist both normal and shear forces aligned roughly to the loading direction. By arranging these pads in counterbalanced pairs, triads, or quads, omni-directional grip can be achieved, an architecture shown to a proof of concept level at JPL and employed by geckos when climbing on ceilings. The pads release with zero detachment force when the applied shear load is removed through the reversal of the slight sliding motion used to engage.”