House Appropriations Committee Boosts NASA’s Budget

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Ignoring the Trump’s Administration’s fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018) budget request, the House Appropriations Committee has voted to boost NASA’ spending to $19.88 billion, including significant increases to the space agency’s Exploration and Planetary Science programs.

The appropriations bill is an increase of $779.8 million over Trump’s requested budget of $19.09 billion. It would increase NASA’s budget by $218.5 million over the $19.65 billion the space agency is receiving in FY 2017.

NASA’s Exploration program, which includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, would be boosted by $226 million to $4.55 billion under the House measure. The administration had requested $3.93 billion, a cut of $390 million under current spending.

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Court Throws Out Orbital ATK Lawsuit Over DARPA Satellite Servicing Contract

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program satellite. (Credit: DARPA)

Well, some bad news and maybe some good news for Orbital ATK in its battle against a DARPA-backed satellite servicing venture.

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.

MDA Forms Space Infrastructure Services for Satellite Servicing

Satellite refueling mission (Credit: MDA)

SAN FRANCISCO, June 28, 2017 (SSL MDA PR) — SSL MDA Holdings Inc., a global communications and information company, today announced important milestones in its progress to bring transformational on-orbit satellite servicing to market.

Space Infrastructure Services LLC (SIS), a new U.S. company, will commercialize sophisticated satellite servicing capabilities, including refueling. SIS will be majority owned by Finance Technology Leverage LLC (FTL), a global investment company headquartered in Silicon Valley, along with other U.S. investors, with SSL MDA Holdings maintaining a minority ownership share.  Full financing for the venture is expected to conclude in the coming weeks.

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Orbital ATK Completes PDR for Part of Mission Extension Vehicle System


DULLES, Va., June 20, 2017 (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced the completion of its Rendezvous, Proximity Operations and Docking (RPOD) system preliminary design review.

The RPOD system comprises the sensors, actuators and control algorithms which allow for the detection, tracking, and safe approach to a client spacecraft. The company’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) will provide satellite life extension services to Intelsat S.A. beginning in 2019.

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Congressional Budget Gives NASA $19.6 Billion

NASA would receive $19.653 billion for fiscal year 2017 under an Omnibus spending bill released on Monday by Congressional appropriators, an increase of more than $600 million requested by the Obama Administration. NASA received just under $19.3 billion in FY 2016.

The bill was released seven months into the 2017 fiscal year. The government has been operating on continuing resolutions since the year began last Oct. 1.

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SSL, DARPA Sign Satellite Servicing Agreement

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program satellite. (Credit: DARPA)

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.

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Space Systems Loral Sues Orbital ATK Over Alleged Theft of Trade Secrets

Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

Even before the first robotic satellite servicing mission is launched, there have been two — count ’em, two — robotic satellite servicing lawsuits.

Space Systems/Loral is suing rival Orbital ATK over an alleged theft of proprietary data and business plans for an in-space satellite servicing technology, according to a complaint filed on Thursday.

The lawsuit is the second in six weeks involving the companies and their efforts to start a new industry servicing and repairing satellites in orbit.

At least four confidential SSL documents were viewed and distributed by an Orbital ATK employee working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where the data is stored as part of an ongoing SSL partnership with the U.S. space agency, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia….

SSL, a subsidiary of Canada-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., said it was informed of the data breach by NASA in December 2016.

Orbital acknowledged the unauthorized access of SSL’s data and fired the employee, but did not respond to questions about the scope of the breach or about five other Orbital employees whom NASA said may have read the SSL documents, the lawsuit said.

Read the full story.

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) Program Fact Sheet

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites Program satellite. (Credit: DARPA)

DARPA Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) Program
Fact Sheet

Overview

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.
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DARPA Selects Space Systems Loral for GEO Satellite Servicing Mission

DARPA RSGS Robotic Servicing Vehicle utilizing MDA US Systems robotic arms to repair a satellite on orbit. (Source: DARPA)

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.

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Orbital ATK Sues to Stop DARPA Satellite Servicing Program


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.

Read the full story.

Members of Congress Urge DARPA to Reconsider Satellite Servicing Program

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).

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China Space Program White Paper Outlines Lunar & Mars Missions

china_flagA white paper outlining China’s space policy for the next five years calls for a sample return mission to the moon, a landing on the far side of Earth’s closest neighbor, and the launch of an orbiter and lander to Mars by 2020.

China will also begin constructing a permanent space station and research and development work on a heavy-lift launcher, reusable boosters and satellite servicing systems.

The nation also wants to expand international cooperation in areas that include remote sensing, space applications, lunar and planetary exploration, and human spaceflight.

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NASA, DARPA Seek Industry Help in Establishing Satellite Servicing Standards

Artist's conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)
Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

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.

Read the full op-ed.

NASA Satellite Servicing Office Becomes a Projects Division

SSPD_Emblem_2016_Project_UseGREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Since 2009, the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) has been building upon the heritage of satellite servicing and repair that began with NASA’s successful servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. Recently, SSCO became the Satellite Servicing Projects Division (SSPD), continuing its growth from one office with multiple demonstrations to a division of three offices and two projects.

The creation of SSPD is more than a name change. “The growth of satellite servicing projects and demonstrations necessitated the evolution of the office into a division,” said Ben Reed, deputy division director for SSPD. SSCO was a vital bridge from human-based shuttle servicing to robotic-based multiple-orbit servicing. “It was the foundation that will allow us as a division to expand our technologies for multiple stakeholders – from on-orbit refueling to large aperture telescope assembly in space, and NASA’s Journey to Mars.”

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NASA Awards Restore-L Satellite Servicing Contract to Space Systems/Loral

Artist's conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)
Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded the Restore-L Spacecraft Bus and Support Services contract to Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California. Restore-L is a robotic spacecraft equipped with the tools, technologies and techniques needed to service satellites currently in orbit.

The contract has a firm-fixed-price and includes a three-year core period and a two-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity portion. The total maximum value of the contract is $127 million.

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