NASA Funds Advanced Robotics R&D Projects for On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected three research and development projects focused on developing on-orbit servicing, assembly and manufacturing technologies for continued funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

NASA selected Motiv Space Systems of Pasadena, Calif., for two Phase II awards, and TRACLabs of San Antonio, Texas for one award. The awards are worth up to $750,000 apiece for projects lasting for 24 months. Both companies received smaller SBIR Phase I awards.

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SCOUT Awarded SBIR Grant from NASA for Development of Autonomous Relative Navigation Systems

SCOUT Awarded SBIR Grant from NASA for Development of Autonomous Relative Navigation Systems for Rendezvous, Proximity Operations, and Docking

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES, May 31, 2022 (SCOUT PR) — SCOUT Inc., a space tech company developing autonomous proximity operations and spacecraft awareness service, today announced its selection for a NASA SBIR award to make relative navigation more resilient and enable more autonomous rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking. This effort is expected to yield advancements in autonomy and resilience across a wide range of NASA applications which often require exhaustive pre-planning and manual operations of multi-satellite systems.

SCOUT’s fault-tolerant and robust 6-degree-of-freedom finite-time controllers integrate multiple control system inputs and data sources, such as SCOUT-Vision remote sensing systems, to facilitate faster, more accurate tracking performance and more efficient control energy consumption during proximity operations than conventional controller modes in the presence of real-world challenges such as actuator faults, parametric uncertainty, and unknown external disturbances.

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Astrobotic Wins $1.5M to Mature Satellite Servicing and Hazard Detection Systems for Space

Example LiDAR Reconstruction of Spacecraft (Simulated); this mapping will be generated by Astrobotic’s algorithms to enable satellite servicing and hazard detection. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

PITTSBURGH (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic has won two NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contracts worth $1.5 million to further advance novel Laser Imaging, Detection, and Ranging (LiDAR) software solutions. When space qualified, these software packages will support in-space satellite servicing as well as safe landing on celestial objects such as the Moon or asteroids through accurate hazard detection.

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SpaceLogistics Announces Launch Agreement with SpaceX and First Mission Extension Pod Contract with Optus

MRV approaching commercial satellite for MEP installation. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Northrop Grumman-owned Company’s Launch of the Mission Robotic Vehicle and Mission Extension Pods will Mark a New Era in On-orbit Satellite Servicing

DULLES, Va., Feb. 21, 2022 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (NYSE: NOC) SpaceLogistics today announced a launch agreement for its Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) spacecraft, and the sale of its first Mission Extension Pod (MEP).

Under the launch agreement, SpaceX will provide launch services for a planned spring 2024 launch of the MRV and several MEPs. Optus, Australia’s largest satellite owner and operator, recently completed a purchase agreement with SpaceLogistics for installation of one of the MEPs on its D3 satellite in 2025.

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NSR’s In-Orbit Services Report Projects $14.3 Billion in Revenues as Non-Geo Constellations Grow Demand

Satellite Life Extension is Largest Global Market, but Space Situational Awareness and Active Debris Removal Also Show Upside Potential

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 15, 2022 (NSR PR) — In its 5th year, NSR’s first to market In-Orbit Services: Satellite Servicing, ADR, and SSA, 5th Edition (IoSM5) forecasts $14.3 Billion in IoSM revenue, driven by Life Extension, generating $4.7 Billion through 2031. As the race to launch Non-GEO Satellite Constellation grows, thousands of satellites are set to launch through the coming decade growing demand for IoS.

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Turion Space and NanoAvionics to Build a Satellite for Orbital Reconnaissance Mission

COLUMBIA, Ill., February 2, 2022 (NanoAvionics PR) – US company Turion Space, aiming to build spacecraft to remove orbital-debris, satellite servicing, and domain awareness, has selected NanoAvionics small satellite bus, the MP42, as the basis for its ‘Droid-1’ spacecraft designed for a reconnaissance mission in low Earth orbit (LEO). The launch of the Droid-1 satellite is planned for the first quarter of 2023.

Using its onboard sensors, Turion Space’s satellite will be able to take extremely accurate measurements of spacecraft and objects in orbit. The data will give operators and users the exact location of their satellites and in relation to others, especially at crucial times when two spacecraft are critically close.

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Responsive Satellite Servicing and Sustainable Space Launches Get a Boost Through Astroscale, Virgin Orbit Partnership

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Astroscale PR) – Astroscale Holdings Inc. (“Astroscale”), the market leader in satellite servicing and long-term orbital sustainability across all orbits, today announced it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with Virgin Orbit, the responsive launch and space solutions company that has announced a planned business combination with NextGen Acquisition Corp. II (“NextGen”) (NASDAQ: NGCA).

The MOU establishes a new partnership in which the two companies will seek opportunities to cooperate on a series of space initiatives that will drive the future of space sustainability and on-orbit servicing ecosystem. Astroscale is planning dozens of missions over the next decade and is in discussions with Virgin Orbit to launch as many as 10 of those on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne. The two companies are also working toward a future joint mission concept focused on satellite servicing.

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Orbit Fab, U.S Air Force Sign CRADA for On-Orbit Refueling Technology

SAN FRANCISCO, October 14, 2021 (Orbit Fab PR) — Orbit Fab, the Gas Stations in Space™ company, has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space Vehicle Directorate, and the Spacecraft Technology Division to advance on-orbit refueling technology.

Orbit Fab will offer a ubiquitous supply of propellant in Earth orbit. Providing satellites the right fuel, in the right location, when they need it, will enable next generation capabilities for in-space refueling, servicing, assembly and manufacturing. Under the collaboration, Orbit Fab will share technical details and make available its hardware products, such as the RAFTI (The Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface) and a cooperative docking guidance solution. The Air Force, in return, will review Orbit Fab’s refueling technologies, advise on requirements and designs, and make available its facilities for advancing performance and qualification. The knowledge exchange will allow Orbit Fab to bring to market its products for both defense users and commercial companies.

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Simulating Space on Earth: NASA Receives Hardware for Testing Satellite Servicing Tech

Engineers test grapple capabilities for satellite servicing using a gravity offset table at NASA’s Goddard Flight Facility. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — In August 2021, new testing equipment arrived at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in the form of a gravity offset table. NASA engineers will use the table to test robotic satellite servicing technologies that will one day operate in space.  

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Starfish Space Raises $7 Million to Develop the Otter Space Tug

Otto space tug approaches satellite. (Credit: Starfish Space)

Kent, Wash., September 28, 2021 (Starfish Space PR) – Starfish Space, a satellite servicing company founded by former Blue Origin engineers, announced today that it has raised a $7M funding round co-led by NFX and MaC Venture Capital, with participation from PSL Ventures, Boost VC, Liquid2 Ventures, and Hypothesis.

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Orbit Fab Selects Colorado as Home to New Headquarters

Gov. Polis, Lt. Governor Primavera welcome Colorado’s newest member of the aerospace industry, State out competes Texas and Florida 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (OEDIT PR) – Governor Jared Polis, Lt. Governor Primavera and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) announced today that Orbit Fab, a multi-orbit refueling servicing company (The Gas Station in Space™) has chosen to relocate its headquarters and engineering team from San Francisco to Colorado. 

“More and more companies are moving to Colorado because of quality of life and our state is the best place to live, work and build a business.  We’re thrilled that so many innovative businesses are recognizing this, investing in Colorado and creating jobs,” said Governor Jared Polis. “We’re pleased to welcome Orbit Fab to our state and look forward to watching their growth.”

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Bradford Space, Neutron Star Systems to Cooperate on Orbital Transportation & Maneuvering Technology

HEERLE, Netherlands (Bradford Space PR) — Bradford Space (Bradford) and Neutron Star Systems (NSS) established a cooperative agreement for enhanced orbital transport and maneuver technology for cis-lunar logistics. The agreement lays the foundation to increase the total propulsive capability of Bradford’s recently announced Space Logistics Service by incorporating NSS electric propulsion technology with Bradford’s green monopropellant technology.

The Bradford/NSS cooperation was fostered by a recent meeting at the United States Space Force and Air Force Research Laboratory Catalyst Accelerators Catalyst Collision event. The cooperation is founded on Bradford’s leadership in non-toxic propellant systems and the wide propellant flexibility of NSS’s SUPREMETM electric thruster. With growing concerns over the safety and cost of traditional Hydrazine propellant, the adoption of new green propellants will be critical for enabling safer and more sustainable space logistics. Bradford is the world leading provider of high thrust green propulsion systems with 25 spacecraft flying Bradford’s LMP-103S proprietary green monopropellant.

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Benchmark Unveils In-Space Mobility Service to Unlock OSAM Innovations

Flexible taxi-like pay-as-you-go propulsion service enables satellite operators and service providers to dramatically reduce upfront mission costs and boost revenues and ROI by converting capex to opex

SCOUT and Orbit Fab have signed the first Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) agreements to speed their OSAM missions

BURLINGTON, Vt., June 23, 2021 (Benchmark Space Systems PR) – Benchmark Space Systems, a leading provider of in-space mobility products and services, today announced a breakthrough in-space mobility service that virtually eliminates upfront propulsion equipment costs and boosts on-orbit, servicing, assembly and manufacturing (OSAM) mission revenues by allowing satellite operators and service providers to pay as they go for in-space transport.

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SpaceFund Announces Full Deployment of First Fund

HOUSTON (SpaceFund PR) — SpaceFund Inc., announced it has fully deployed investments from its first “LaunchPad” fund today. The venture capital firm placed investor funds in 14 companies, including both some well-known NewSpace stars, as well as seeding rising stars it believes capable of helping lead humanity into the frontier of space.

“We’re right on track in our plan to seed and support the growth of these amazing companies,” said SpaceFund founder Rick Tumlinson. “Our formula is working. First we find brilliant frontier tech startups in need of early funding, then we bring in funds from visionary investors, and after significant diligence, we place those funds in just the right places to power the space revolution.”

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Eight Companies Join Catalyst Accelerator’s On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing Cohort

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 19, 2021 (Catalyst Accelerator PR) — Eight small businesses will come together virtually from across the country for the Catalyst Accelerator’s cohort focused on On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing.

The Catalyst Accelerator, powered by the Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV), was developed to promote technology advancement for the warfighter and guide technology transfer for the government to industry and vice versa. The implications for in-space manufacturing are seemingly limitless. Therefore, the US Space Force, in conjunction with AFRL/RV, is seeking bold and disruptive technologies enabling on-orbit servicing and manufacturing.

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