US: SSL MDA Holdings has announced to bring transformational on-orbit satellite servicing to market. Space Infrastructure Services LLC (SIS), a new U.S. company, will commercialize sophisticated satellite servicing capabilities, including refueling. SIS will be majority owned by Finance Technology Leverage LLC (FTL), a global investment company headquartered in Silicon Valley, along with other U.S. investors, with SSL MDA Holdings maintaining a minority ownership share. Full financing for the venture is expected to conclude in the coming weeks.
“This new venture is designed to provide satellite operators with more options in fleet management,” noted Howard L. Lance, President and CEO of SSL MDA Holdings. “Both commercial and government satellite operators are looking for flexibility in managing capital expenditures and better ways to incorporate resiliency into their fleets. By combining our world-class capabilities in satellite manufacturing and robotics together, SSL MDA is uniquely positioned to enable this next-generation capability.”
On-orbit satellite servicing will provide operators with the ability to enhance the existing use of space assets through life extension, inspection, and repair. In addition, satellite servicing provides a capability to perform partial assembly in orbit, either augmenting existing satellites, replacing elements from modular satellites or constructing larger satellites freed from the mass and size constraints of launch.
Spacecraft Manufacturing Contract
SIS has awarded a contract to SSL, a leading provider of innovative satellites and spacecraft systems, to design and build the highly capable satellite servicing spacecraft vehicle. The vehicle will fully meet the specifications for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, which is designed to inspect, repair, and augment geosynchronous satellites and plans to include a refueling payload to extend the life of satellites that are low on propellant. The contract is valued at US$228 million (CA$305 million). SSL is working with the Naval Research Laboratory, the Charles Draper Laboratory and MDA robotics divisions in Brampton, Ontario and Pasadena, CA. to develop the servicer.
“FTL is committed to advancing space-related industries by supporting key technologies and markets,” said Ray Conley, Managing Partner of FTL. “On-orbit refueling and repairing of spacecraft is a critical step in humanity’s march toward a vibrant and exciting frontier. We believe that SSL has assembled the world’s premier team to make SIS the leaders in this vital new arena.”
First Commercial Customer
The company also announced that SES, a world leading satellite-enabled solutions provider, with more than 50 GEO satellites and 12 MEO satellites on orbit, has entered into an agreement for an initial life extension mission with options for further missions. Under this agreement, SES will be the first commercial customer to benefit from satellite refueling that can be called up as needed with minimal disruption to spacecraft operation.
“Satellite servicing on orbit will be essential to next-generation architectures for communications satellites,” said Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer of SES. “We are pleased to be working on a refueling mission that may enable us to get more value out of satellites already on orbit. Refueling will be relatively quick and we will be able to maintain control of our spacecraft at all times.”
Once orbital demonstrations under the RSGS program are complete, SIS will receive the satellite servicing vehicle to operate throughout its lifetime. Steve Oldham, Senior Vice President Business Development with SSL MDA, is responsible for the SIS business.