U.S. District Court dismissed Orbital ATK’s lawsuit against a U.S. government effort to develop an in-orbit robotic servicing vehicle with contractor Space Systems/Loral (SSL), saying the court has no standing to challenge an agency program.
In its July 12 decision, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia suggested that Orbital’s basic argument — that U.S. policy encourages government agencies to turn to the private sector for technology rather than develop competing technology — had merit.
The problem for Orbital, the court concluded, is that it sought to cancel an entire U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program and not a specific element of it….
DARPA awarded an RSGS contract to SSL in February 2017 after a competitive bidding process in which Orbital did not participate as a bidder, but rather as a kind of informal protester asking DARPA to change the program. DARPA considers that Orbital’s response was in fact a non-compliant bid.
Orbital ATK’s argument is that the DARPA/SSL project competes against a satellite servicing program the company has been developing with its own money. Thus, it runs counter to U.S. policy to promote commercial space development and competition.
Frustrated over delays with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, DARPA is considering launching an innovative experimental satellite on India’s PSLV rocket, SpaceNewsreports.
Jeremy Palmer, program manager for DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, told attendees at the Milsatcom USA conference that officials are hoping to launch the eXperiment for Cellular Integration Technology (eXCITe) satellite during the second half of fiscal year 2018, i.e., from April to September 2018.
The eXCITe spacecraft consists of 14 small satlets aggregated together into a single payload weighing 155 kg. The satlets, which are supplied by NovaWurks, have autonomous capabilities and are capable of operating individually or being aggregated into larger, more capable satellites.
eXCITe was originally scheduled to fly as a secondary payload aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. It would have been deployed from a Spaceflight-supplied Sherpa payload dispenser, which aggregates smaller secondary payloads.
However, repeated slips in SpaceX’s launch schedule required Spaceflight to seek alternative rides to space for payloads that would have been deployed by the Sherpa dispenser.
DARPA would need a U.S. government waiver to fly eXCITe on the PSLV. The government has been granting an increasing number of waivers to American satellite manufacturers who say there is a shortage of domestic launch opportunities.
U.S. launch companies have pushed back agains the waivers, saying India’s PSLV and GSLV launchers are subsidized by the nation’s space agency, ISRO. A number of U.S. companies are developing launch vehicles specifically aimed at the small satellite market, but none has yet made a succesful flight to orbit.
LOS ANGELES, May 24, 2017 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), was selected to provide the main propulsion for the Boeing and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) reusable Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1). Aerojet Rocketdyne is a member of the Boeing team that recently announced an agreement to collaborate with DARPA to design, build and test a technology demonstrator for the agency’s XS-1 program.
Video Caption: DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space. The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit. Success will depend upon significant advances in both technical capabilities and ground operations, but would revolutionize the Nation’s ability to recover from a catastrophic loss of military or commercial satellites, upon which the Nation today is critically dependent.
In its pursuit of aircraft-like operability, reliability, and cost-efficiency, DARPA and Boeing are planning to conduct a flight test demonstration of XS-1 technology, flying 10 times in 10 days, initially without an upper stage. If successful, the program could help enable a commercial service in the future that could operate with recurring costs of as little as $5 million or less per launch, including the cost of an expendable upper stage, assuming a recurring flight rate of at least ten flights per year—a small fraction of the cost of launch systems the U.S. military currently uses for similarly sized payloads. (Note that goal is for actual cost, not commercial price, which would be determined in part by market forces.)
WASHINGTON, DC (DARPA PR) — DARPA has selected The Boeing Company to complete advanced design work for the Agency’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program, which aims to build and fly the first of an entirely new class of hypersonic aircraft that would bolster national security by providing short-notice, low-cost access to space.
The program aims to achieve a capability well out of reach today—launches to low Earth orbit in days, as compared to the months or years of preparation currently needed to get a single satellite on orbit.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Masten Space Systems PR) – On September 30, 2016, Masten Space Systems successfully concluded the 13-month design, build, and test period for the first development unit of the Broadsword 25 rocket engine, funded as a technology demonstration under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program. This first phase of the engine development effort included commissioning Masten’s largest mobile engine test stand and firing of the company’s highest-thrust rocket engine to date.
Masten Space Systems’ Xaero-B test vehicle was damaged during a flight at the Mojave Air and Space Port last month. The company says it has no plans to repair it at this time.
A source who requested anonymity reports the crash occurred on April 19. The vehicle rose about five to 10 feet off its launch pad, began to pitched over and then fell to the desert floor, the source said.
PALO ALTO, Calif., April 12, 2017 (SSL PR) — Space Systems Loral (SSL), a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, today announced that it has signed and executed an agreement with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop advanced capabilities for servicing and maintaining spacecraft in geostationary orbit. Details of the partnership were previously released on February 9, 2017.
DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) Program Fact Sheet
National security increasingly demands a high degree of flexibility on orbit, including an ability to repair and upgrade satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The technical challenges of performing such functions 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—precisely the kind of high risk/high reward opportunity that DARPA was created to pursue. RSGS is a research and demonstration effort that aims to speed the arrival of capabilities such as high-resolution inspection; correction of otherwise 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. (more…)
WASHNIGTON (DARPA PR) — In an important step toward a new era of advanced, cost-effective robotic capabilities in space, DARPA today announced that it has selected Space Systems Loral (SSL), based in Palo Alto, CA, as its commercial partner for the Agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.
DARPA and SSL seek to develop technologies that would enable cooperative inspection and servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), more than 20,000 miles above the Earth, and demonstrate those technologies on orbit. If successful, this research and demonstration effort would open the door to radically lowering the risks and costs of operating in GEO, a harsh and difficult-to-access domain that is critically important for both military and civilian space assets.
Orbital ATK has filed a lawsuit against DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, arguing that it competes with its own Mission Extension Vehicle program.
Under the public-private partnership envisioned by DARPA, an industry partner would eventually be able to profit from RSGS by offering robotic satellite servicing to commercial and government entities. Meanwhile, the government would be able to buy those services at a reduced price.
But Orbital ATK says that the program violates the National Space Policy, which states that the government should not subsidize space-related activities that private entities are willing to invest in on their own. The company has been developing its own servicing vehicle, the Mission Extension Vehicle, has already booked Intelsat as its first customer and is set for a 2018 launch.
“The U.S. National Space Policy explicitly directs government agencies to avoid funding activities that are already in development in the commercial marketplace,” the company said in a statement. “Orbital ATK will continue to pursue all available options to oppose DARPA from moving forward with this illegal and wasteful use of U.S. taxpayer dollars.”
DARPA declined to comment on pending legal action, but has been adamant that its program does not flout U.S. space policy. In a Feb. 3 letter to Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., DARPA acting director Steven Walker said the agency had conducted a review of the program, as requested by the lawmaker.
“We believe the program is consistent with the 2010 National Space policy,” Walker wrote.
Four members of Congress have sent letters to DARPA asking the defense agency to review a satellite servicing program they believe duplicates other efforts by a commercial company and NASA.
“We are concerned that DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellite (RSGS) program is duplicating commercial investment and capability in violation of National Space Policy and contrary to the best interests of taxpayers,” reads one letter signed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
NASA and DARPA have launched an initiative to establish standards for the robotic servicing of satellites in orbit. The venture was described in a SpaceNews op-ed written by NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and Pam Melroy, deputy director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.
DARPA and NASA are announcing co-sponsorship of a privately led effort to leverage emerging government-developed best practices to develop non-binding industry consensus standards for safe robotic servicing by commercial servicers. While DARPA and NASA are serving as the impetus for this consortium with DARPA providing initial funding, we envision industry eventually taking full responsibility for this effort as it has done with standards-setting in other domains….
DARPA has issued a draft Broad Agency Announcement to launch this effort, entitled “Consortium For Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations,” or CONFERS, accessible via www.fbo.gov. DARPA conducted an associated Proposers Day on Dec. 16, and we look forward to participation from across the stakeholder community as we move forward.
Two senior policy advisers to Donald Trump, Robert S. Walker and Peter Navarro, published op-eds in SpaceNews prior to the election outlining the president elect’s planned civil and military space policies.
Civil Space Policy
The highlights on the civil side include:
“Public-private partnerships should be the foundation of our space efforts. Such partnerships offer not only the benefit of reduced costs, but the benefit of partners capable of thinking outside of bureaucratic structures and regulations.”
OK, that seems to have pretty broad acceptance and is along the lines of what’s already being done. (more…)