Maxar taps MDA for robotic satellite servicing technologies

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This article was updated Nov. 17 at midnight Eastern time with comments from MDA CEO Mike Greenley.

SAN FRANCISCO – MDA signed multiple contracts with its former owner Maxar Technologies to provide hardware and software for the Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot (SPIDER), a technology demonstration planned for NASA’s On‑orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1) mission.

The contracts provide clues to the opportunities ahead for MDA as it applies technologies developed and demonstrated through large institutional programs to emerging commercial markets for on-orbit servicing and assembly as well as future markets for on-orbit manufacturing, MDA CEO Mike Greenley told SpaceNews.

MDA built the original Canadarm for the space shuttle and the Canadarm2 and Dextre manipulator for the International Space Station. MDA is beginning to see commercial demand for its robotic systems and subsystems in the on-orbit servicing market.

“There is now an emerging on-orbit serving and assembly market,” Greenley said. “The opportunity for us to deliver these systems into the market is now becoming real. We are in a number of conversations around the world with other corporations looking at on-orbit servicing and assembly markets to be able to utilize our commercial robotic solutions.”

In addition, MDA is eager to share its operations experience.

“As a result of past programs, we have over three million hours of engineering support to on-orbit robotic operations,” Greenley said. “We provided support for planning maneuvers, providing technical support in control rooms and providing support to operations. We have this tremendous asset of operational experience that we can provide to commercial partners around the world to help them operate the robotics in addition to delivering a technical solution.”

Under the contracts announced Nov. 17, MDA will deliver a suite of advanced robot control software and interfaces to assist with assembly and servicing tasks expected to be performed for the first time on the OSAM-1 mission.

MDA plans to deliver to Maxar a dexterous end effector, motor control software, robotic console command and control software and computers, grapple fixtures and targets for on-orbit assembly interfaces, and compact cameras and controllers for situational awareness and robotic arm operation.

In addition, Maxar is hiring MDA to deliver the motor control electronics and arm control electronics on the SPIDER robotic arm. “These essential components drive and control each of the motors and joints of the arm as well as providing the data routing and interfacing between joints and cameras,” according to the news release.

MDA plans to deliver the various products to Maxar in mid-to-late 2021.

The various technologies “will not only support the goal of making on-orbit assembly commercially viable, but could also support other on-orbit services like debris removal, anomaly resolution, life extension and salvage of stranded spacecraft,” according to the news release.

“These contracts position MDA for continued success in the commercial space robotics market, an emerging business area forecast to generate global revenues in excess of $4.5 billion in the next 10 years,” Greenley said in a statement. “Our work on this program will leverage over 40 years of spaceflight heritage and a successful track record in design, development and operational support of space robotics.”

OSAM-1, a NASA mission previously known as Restore-L, is scheduled for launch in 2024. Maxar is building the OSAM-1 satellite to rendezvous with the Landsat 7 spacecraft and refuel it, before conducting a series of demonstrations of in-space robotic assembly including SPIDER.

For the SPIDER demonstration, NASA awarded Maxar a $142 million contract in January to robotically assemble a communications antenna and manufacture a spacecraft beam in orbit.

Maxar announced in April it was selling MDA for $729 million to a consortium of investors led by Northern Private Capital of Toronto.