Operators of Space Force satellite unprepared to embrace in-orbit servicing
Focus on servicing satellite in the orbit
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Servicing satellites in orbit, including refueling, life extension, and repair, is an expanding area of the space business. NASA has adopted this technology and plans to launch the OSAM-1 mission (On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing) in 2024. It will attempt to refuel an out-of-date satellite as well as construct components in space.
According to Karl Stolleis, the Space Force, which manages more than 100 satellites for the US military, has yet to find out how to use this technology.
Stokkeis, the head of the US Space Force’s space robotics and logistics division, believes they are having trouble because they don’t understand the goal.
According to Stolleis, the Space Force does not see OSAM as a mission in and of itself, but rather as a suite of supporting technologies. While these technologies are fast evolving, he believes the military culture has yet to catch up.
“For the previous 40 to 50 years, satellites have been flown the same way,” he explained. Many in the Space Force believe that satellites may be serviced in orbit is a pipe dream. While talking about refuelling, they believe 2035, and when presented to show them what corporations are doing, they think it to be Buck Rogers.”
Two Northrop Grumman Mission Extension Vehicles, for example, are in orbit, providing station-keeping services for two Intelsat geostationary satellites that were running short on fuel.
Stolleis stated, “We’re just starting to wrap our heads around it.”
Adding the ability to refuel satellites would be revolutionary, he noted. Because manipulating satellites waste valuable fuel, the military avoids it. “If you transfer any of the spacecraft that are up there right now, you are reducing their longevity. As a result, we are apprehensive about moving any spacecraft out there for whatever reason.”
Commercial satellites in orbit already in service
Northrop Grumman’s second-generation servicing vehicle, according to Joseph Anderson, head of Mission Extension Vehicles, will be a mix. The technologies will be a commercial MEV and a robotic payload developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The Mission Robotic Vehicle will add six years to the life of geostationary satellites by installing miniature propulsion units.
“I believe you will see an RFP [request for proposals] from the US government very soon for a spacecraft that is purpose-built to be refueled,” he stated. “So that’s the first thing we have to do.”
According to him, the B-52 bombers in use today were first deployed in the 1950s and 1960s. They’re still flying, but they’ve been rebuilt several times, he continued, implying that the same model could be applied to space travel.