NASA cancels a multibillion-dollar demonstration project for satellite servicing

NASA cancels a multibillion-dollar demonstration project for satellite servicing

NASA has canceled a $1.5 billion project that was likely going to cost about $1 billion more to get to the launch pad. The mission was intended to test robotic satellite servicing technologies in orbit, but it was overbudget and behind schedule.

In addition to attempting to refuel an aging Landsat satellite in orbit, the On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 mission, or OSAM-1, would have demonstrated how a robotic arm could build an antenna in space. Although the OSAM-1 mission’s spacecraft is a half built, NASA declared on Friday that the project has been canceled “following an in-depth, independent project review.”

The space agency announced that OSAM-1 would not be proceeding due to “continued technical, cost, and schedule challenges.”

Mission creep

The cost of the mission has increased dramatically since NASA began work on it in 2016. Only the refueling demonstration was part of the mission’s initial plan, but in 2020, officials added the in-orbit assembly goal. The Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot (SPIDER), which is effectively a 16-foot-long (5-meter) robotic arm, has to be added in order to combine seven structural elements into a single Ka-band communications antenna.

The mission’s delays and cost overruns were explained in a report released by NASA’s Inspector General last year. Congress has been asked to approve $808 million by the space agency for Restore-L and OSAM-1 since 2016. In response, lawmakers gave NASA around $1.5 billion to fund the mission’s development—nearly double as much as the organization had requested.

Restore-L, and OSAM-1, have always had Congressional support. The mission was led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) was a key supporter of NASA missions conducted from Goddard, including the James Webb Space Telescope. She was the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee when Congress began funding Restore L in late 2015.

NASA previously estimated that the Restore-L mission would cost between $626 million and $753 million and could be ready for launch in late 2020. That didn’t happen, and the mission continued to face delays and increased costs. OSAM-1’s latest public schedule calls for a launch date of 2026.

In 2020, after redesigning the Restore-L mission as his OSAM-1, NASA formally submitted a budget for the renamed mission. At the time, NASA said it would cost $1.78 billion to design, build, launch and operate the spacecraft. An independent review board established by NASA last year to study the OSAM-1 mission estimated the total cost of the project at up to $2.35 billion, NASA spokesman Jimi Russell said.

The realities of the satellite services market have also changed since 2016. There are several companies working on commercial satellite servicing technology, and as OSAM-1 demonstrated with her Landsat 7 Earth Imaging Satellite, the satellite industry is moving away from refueling spacecraft that are not ready.

Companies are focusing more on finding other ways to extend the life of satellites. The Mission Extension Vehicle, created by Northrop Grumman, may attach itself to a satellite and give maneuvering capability without requiring the customer spacecraft to make any inroads in order to refuel. Some businesses are considering satellites with refueling ports built in from the beginning. To ensure that its satellites can continually maneuver and burn propellant without fear of running out of fuel, the US military wants to station fuel depots and tankers in orbit.

Topics #multibillion-dollar demonstration #NASA #robotic satellite #satellite servicing

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