Sunday, February 19, 2012

Details of MDA On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Proposal


The Future In-Space Operations (FISO) website, which covers ideas for using National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) technology for follow-on programs has posted the February 13th, 2012 presentation on "Space Servicing: The Future is Now" by Dan King, the Director of Orbital Robotics for MD Robotics, a division of BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA).

MDA considers geosynchronous satellites to be the initial market.

The presentation (including PDF's of the power-points plus an audio recording) makes public several interesting business assumptions in the MDA on-orbit satellite servicing program:
  • Owner operators of satellites in geosynchronous (GEO) orbit are considered to be the initial market for the product because "high value and high cost satellites are routinely de-commissioned when they run out of fuel or experience component failure" and "GEO operators regularly face significant capital replacement costs to maintain access to slots and grow revenues."
DEXTRE installing the Robotic Refueling Mission module on the
International Space Station (ISS) in September 2011.
  • The MDA pricing model will enable satellite servicing in a cost effective and "insurable" manner, which would allow satellite operators to plan in advance for these expenses. Cost for refueling will be on a "per kg" basis and the system will work with a variety of satellite types and sizes using both mono-propellant and bi-propellant fuel.
  • Refueling and servicing will be conducted quickly (within weeks) and with minimal impact to client satellite activities. Once completed, the refueled or repaired satellite could be operated independently from the on-orbit satellite servicer.
  • Commercialization considerations for the program include the large up-front development costs, the customer  perspective (while the need for the service is demonstrated, the typical satellite company has no interest in funding development costs) and the ability of the US government to define, enable or even distort the market through US defense policy considerations. 
As outlined in my November 11th, 2011 post "Will US Allow Canada to Bid On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts?" there is much concern over whether or not the Canadian firm will be allowed to bid successfully on US government agency contracts such as the upcoming DARPA Phoenix program. This presentation provides some useful context for those concerns.

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