Maxar Technologies today announced that it has signed a contract with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) to design and deliver two robotic arms to support the in-space assembly and servicing capabilities for the U.S. Department of Defense. Established in 2015, DIU is tasked with strengthening national security by accelerating the adoption of commercial technology throughout the military.

The $9.3 million contract allows Maxar to further develop a cost-effective robotic arm for both commercial and government customers. The flight-ready robotic arms, each about 2 meters in length, will be designed, tested and delivered to DIU within three years. A key feature of these arms is that they will be underactuated, meaning they will have a single motor running a tensioned cable system to transmit torque to any number of joints, reducing system weight and cost.

The robotic arms for DIU leverage Maxar’s decades of experience in building reliable and dexterous robotic arms for extreme space environments, whether in orbit or on another planet. The prototype will be built by Maxar’s team in Pasadena, California, which has delivered six robotic arms for NASA’s Mars rovers and landers, including the SAMPLE HANDLING ASSEMBLY robotic arm on the Perseverance rover. Additionally, Maxar is building the SPIDER robotic arm to support NASA’s On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1) mission and a Lunar Underactuated Robotic Arm (LUNA), a prototype capable of supporting Artemis program operations on the Moon.

Maxar will be partnering with ALTIUS SPACE MACHINES, a Voyager Space Company, in this prototype design. Altius will provide both its MagTagsTM, a magnetic latching connector, and a magnetically latching tool changer. Additionally, Maxar is partnering with SRI INTERNATIONAL, leveraging its electro-adhesive technology for satellite capture as well as its expertise in underactuated arm mechanisms, capabilities that enable simplification of overall robotic arm designs.