Space Commerce

DARPA Seeking Ideas for Public-Private Partnership to Jumpstart Robotic Satellite Servicing

By Marc Boucher
September 4, 2014
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DARPA Seeking Ideas for Public-Private Partnership to Jumpstart Robotic Satellite Servicing
DARPA Goals for GEO Robotic Servicing

Seeking to “jumpstart” the on-orbit robotic satellite servicing concept, DARPA has issued a request for information (RFI) for companies to submit ideas to enable a flight demonstration within the next five years.
“We’re asking the space community to think hard about how they want the future of space operations to look and how GEO robotics could help,” said Gordon Roesler, DARPA program manager. “Their insights are essential as we take the first concrete steps toward viable satellite-servicing capabilities in GEO. If we’re successful, we will significantly accelerate development of a capacity to maximize the utility of current space infrastructure and enhance the capabilities of future systems.”

The RFI is looking for input in two primary areas:

1. Technical characteristics for a robotic servicer that would integrate DARPA-developed space robotics technologies into commercially available spacecraft designed for GEO. Building on DARPA’s Phoenix program and more than a decade of the agency’s other investments in space robotics, the jointly developed GEO robotic servicer would support a variety of multi-year on-orbit missions, including:

– Cooperative inspection of functional spacecraft that may have experienced anomalies while operating in GEO
– Cooperative correction of mechanical problems, such as solar array and antenna deployment malfunctions
– Cooperative assistance with orbit change maneuvers, including relocation or transfer to disposal orbit

2. Business arrangements and practices that would best facilitate a commercial spacecraft servicing enterprise that is long-lived and self-sustaining, and would achieve the greatest value for U.S. national and economic security. DARPA envisions that a non-traditional acquisition instrument may be appropriate to establish this partnership. DARPA wishes to consider creative solutions in this domain and thus desires industry input for structuring the commercial partnership solicitation.

“Creating a public-private partnership is an innovative way to ensure that GEO robotic servicing gets community buy-in to succeed long term,” Roesler said. Moreover, he said, a public-private partnership would support the White House’s National Security Space Strategy of 2011, which states, “Strategic partnerships with commercial firms will be pursued in areas that both stabilize costs and improve the resilience of space architectures on which we rely.”

There are several companies who had been awarded contracts for the DARPA Phoenix program would likely be interested in this new opportunity. They include Space Systems/ Loral, ATK, Honeybee Robotics, Altius Space Machines, Intelsat and NovaWurks to mention a few.

Responses are due November 3, 2014 to by 12:00 PM Eastern Time. All technical and administrative correspondence and questions regarding this announcement and how to respond should be sent to

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.