An Initiative on the Promotion of Satellite Servicing and in-space Assembly Technology

The On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) National Initiative plan to create a common ground on various U.S. government agencies. After all, at the moment, they don’t seem to be reading from the same script when it comes to in-space assembly technologies and satellite servicing. The national initiative’s role is to ensure that the various government agencies exchange information and establish partnerships. At the same time, it would offer both industry and academia. All that will be revolving around technologies ideal for satellite servicing of existing spacecraft and creating new satellites that can do more than their predecessors.

Deborah Tomek, who works for the agency as OSAM’s senior advisor and an initiative leader, emphasized the importance of full collaboration. She said that it is the only way that the OSAM technologies would move forward, primarily through advancing them. Besides, if the advancement happens collectively, the government agencies would eventually have a “suite of capabilities.” She said that on October 29, during the Global Satellite Servicing Forum while making a presentation. The conference organizer was the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS).

The National initiative’s objectives include establishing relations among the involved organizations. Drawing a line between when companies make investments and when the government agencies fund the OSAM technologies is also a priority. The initiative would create a knowledge center where organizations can share information. Lastly, it would identify new applications that can make use of the technologies. Through capability assessments that will start soon, the initiative will be able to identify technology gaps. Consequently, it will be easy to identify the investments worth funding and how to influence the same.

The initiative already has support from NASA, which is one of the U.S. government agencies. For instance, it is funding the OSAM-1 mission previously called Restore-L about the robotic satellite mission, which will launch in 2024. The mission will succeed if the OSAM-1 comes into contact with the Landsat 7 spacecraft and refuel it. Other activities will include demonstrating the in-space robotic assembly of a boom and an antenna. It uses a Maxar’s commercial satellite bus. According to Tomek, OSAM offers both long-term and short-term technology solutions. The agency thinks that it can help in lunar exploration and large space telescopes in-space assembly. Its Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate is thinking about going for OSAM technologies for the Artemis program and wants to take advantage of the ongoing work as much as possible.

Another supporter of OSAM technology is DARPA. It has a Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, similar to OSAM-1 to some extent. It is about satellite servicing using a payload on Northrop Grumman’s commercial satellite bus. According to NRO chief scientist Byron Knight, the company is unsure whether the program is a good move. That is the same stand, wait-and-see, for several companies.