Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Will US Allow Canada to Bid On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts?

The November 1st, 2011 Space News article "MDA Puts Satellite Servicing on Hold; Reports Core Businesses Doing Well" is reporting that BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) has suspended its on-orbit satellite servicing program until the company knows whether it will be allowed to bid on upcoming US government contracts.

Of course, this isn't how things were supposed to shake out. As discussed in my March 15th, 2011 post "Macdonald Dettwiler gets "Anchor Customer" for Brampton Robotics Plant" the original plan was pitched as a partnership with satellite services provider Intelsat S.A for the on-orbit refueling and servicing of Intelsat satellites.

But times and politics change and while the Intelsat partnership remains in place, the focus has now shifted to obtaining additional revenue from US contracts. According to the article:
NASA and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are expected to release requests for bids for a satellite servicing test project in the coming weeks. But whether MDA, as a Canadian company, will be permitted to bid on the work remains unclear. MDA has increased the U.S. content — and thus the development cost — of the system in an attempt to get U.S. regulatory approval.

(MDA CEO Dan) Friedmann said MDA has all but put the project on hold while waiting to see how NASA and DARPA proceed.

"It is not prudent for us to proceed without getting clarity from the government and clarity on our participation in those programs,” Friedmann said. “We have an excellent customer, Intelsat. They do not have infinite patience, but they are patient."

Canadian support for the project remains minimal with no official, public endorsements from either the Canadian government or the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Now might be the time for them to step up to the plate to support this logical progression of iconic Canadarm technology.

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