Monday, January 08, 2018

New "Canadarms" Will Now Compete Against Maxar/ DARPA & Orbital ATK/ NASA Satellite Servicing Technologies

          By Henry Stewart

It's good that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued the January 5th, 2018 notice of proposed procurement (NPP) covering the "Development of enabling space technologies (9F063-160953/C)." 

The new NPP supersedes the April 19th, 2017 NPP, "Development of enabling space technologies (9F06360953/A)," and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. 

Those NPP's will likely continue until funding is secured from the Federal government, which will most likely happen in the 2018 Federal budget, a document expected to be released in March 2018. The CSA has already expressed an interest in contributing "Canadarm" derived technology to the proposed US Deep Space Gateway (DSP), and will likely fund its development, just as soon as those funds become available. 

But anyone who is seriously contemplating the belief which considers the latest and greatest Canadian technology offerings from the CSA to be without peer or competition, is almost certainly in error and quite possibly deluding themselves in technicolor.

US competitors to the CSA's Canadarm technology have been slowly building up their expertise over the last few years through participation in two US government programs, the NASA RESTORE-L robotics servicing mission and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

And now they are poised to dominate the market. The US competitors are certainly ahead of any CSA non-funded notice of future procurement.

The overlap between the two programs and CSA Canadarm capabilities is so overwhelming that, as outlined in the December 16th, 2016 post, "MDA says No Sale of Canadarm Technology to the US Government in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or "Any Other" Project," the Canadarm's prime contractor, Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler or MDA (now a subsidiary of San Franscisco, CA based Maxar Technologies) needed to go on record to state that:
... no Canadarm derived technology is included as part of the recently awarded $127Mln USD ($167Mln CDN) contract to supply the chassis, hardware and various other services for the NASA Restore-L space robotic servicing mission, or as part of "any other" project awarded to MDA."
This blog is cautious of accepting those MDA claims at face value without proof and notes that Maxar Technologies, which now operates MDA as a Canadian subsidiary, is currently the preferred private partner for both the DARPA RSGS and the NASA Restore-L programs.

As outlined in the November 27th, 2017 Via Satellite post, "DARPA Initiates Consortium for On-Orbit Satellite Servicing," DARPA has "coalesced a group of organizations to mock up new rules governing commercial on-orbit satellite repair and refueling. Its Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) seeks to set standards that will ensure on-orbit activities do not endanger the long-term sustainability of the satellite servicing industry."

One of the prime competitors for the NASA Restore-L contract was Dulles, VA based Orbital ATK which, as outlined in the February 12th, 2017 post, "Look Ma! No Canadarms!!! MDA & Orbital ATK Battle for US On-Orbit Satellite Servicing Contracts," is fully aware of the billion dollar competition its currently competing against. 

Oddly enough, Tysons Corner, VA based satellite communications provider Intelsat which is currently partnered up with Orbital ATK to work on on-orbit satellite servicing was once an MDA partner on the failed 2011 Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) program, another in the long line of attempts to develop an on-orbit satellite servicing capability. This earlier attempt explicitly used Canadarm derived technology. 

All of which suggests strongly that the CSA Canadarm robotics program has at least two and possibly more competitors than it had forty plus years ago, when the first Canadarm plans were developed. And the current competitors already have substantial US government contracts and contacts.

Here's hoping that the CSA can move past the non-funded NPP to a point where money can be spent and hardware can be developed really, really quickly.

Otherwise, they'll no longer be able to compete against their larger and better funded competitors.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.


  1. That's just great, plain and simple we're now in danger of no longer being the world leader in space robotics, the one thing that the CSA is ALWAYS touting us as being! There can be no denying it anymore! We're headed straight to second-rate space-fairing nation status at supersonic speed at this point. Wish we could actually DO something for once rather than just commission all these reports, committees, advisory boards, and what have you.

  2. Chuck, you need to get some basic facts correct. SSL, a MAXAR company, is building the spacecraft for NASA's RESTORE-L mission, not Orbital ATK:

  3. You are correct and the post was absolutely in error when it stated that Orbital ATK was prime contractor in the NASA RESTORE-L program.

    As outlined in the July 14th, 2017 post, "Orbital Loses Bid to Stop DARPA Satellite-Servicing Project" at the company lost out on both the NASA RESTORE-L and DARPA contracts to Maxar subsidiary Space Systems Loral.

    Orbital ATK and Intelsat are still working towards on-orbit satellite servicing as a commercial service, as outlined in the December 14th, 2017 post, "FCC Begins Regulatory Approval Process for Orbital ATK Satellite Servicing Mission to Intelsat-901," at

    Thanks for the heads up on the error and thanks for keeping everyone honest ;-)
    Chuck Black, editor


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