The National Air & Space Administration awarded the next phase of funding to Space Systems Loral, a spacecraft systems provider, modifying their contract to continue work on the Dragonfly on-orbit satellite assembly program.
The partnership between NASA and SSL intends to create a semiautonomous robotic system to assemble satellites in space. The software to run the program was designed to work with current spacecraft equipment and platforms.
“NASA relies on commercial innovation as exemplified by the Dragonfly team,” NASA Headquarters TDM program executive Trudy Kortes said in a press release. “Transformative technologies such as these will, in time, lead to more affordable, safer human access to space and more efficient, longer-lasting satellites, probes and other space hardware. Today our future in space looks brighter and more robust than ever.”
NASA, SSL and fellow partners MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. and Tethers Unlimited recently performed a successful ground demonstration of the Dragonfly project, including its ultra-light robotics system and command and control software. The next step in the project is a flight demonstration.
“SSL has a history as an early adopter of innovative technologies that improve satellite performance,” SSL group president Dario Zamarian said in the statement. “Our work with NASA to develop next-generation robotic assembly on orbit has the potential to change the way satellites are built and launched and will also be important for future space architectures that support exploration and deep space missions. We are pleased to have NASA’s continued support of this important work, which is critical to our nation’s leadership in space.”
NASA originally selected SSL for the multi-million dollar contract in December 2015 as part of its Tipping Point initiative aimed at working with private companies and other industry players to advance the use of robotics in space exploration. The original contract was to fund SSL’s Dragonfly study to achieve a ground demonstration.