DARPA Awards $40 Million Contract for Orbital Salvage Demo

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WASHINGTON — Novawurks Inc. of Los Alamitos, Calif., has won a contract worth as much as $40 million from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for another round of work on an experimental satellite servicing and salvaging project known as Phoenix, according to a posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website. 

The goal of Phoenix is to develop a maneuverable spacecraft equipped with a dexterous robotic arm to salvage useful components from retired communications satellites.

The contract, awarded Oct. 8, according to the posting, includes a $30 million base award with four options worth a combined $10 million. For the first demonstration mission, tentatively scheduled for launch in 2015 or 2016 on an as-yet-unidentified rocket, a Phoenix spacecraft will try to remove an antenna from a satellite in a graveyard orbit and affix it to a so-called satlet: a new type of modular satellite core structure DARPA is developing.

Novawurks previously had won a contract in 2012 worth $2.8 million to develop satlets as part of the Phoenix program.

DARPA is expected to complete design work on a “robotic servicing system including primary and secondary robotic arms and toolbelt,” according to budget documents. 

In January, DARPA officials said the agency began development work on the first Phoenix demonstration mission in 2012 and had allocated $180 million over four years for the project. The agency requested $40 million for the project in 2014.

The program is expected to be transitioned to the Air Force at a later date.