MDA, Intelsat In-Orbit Servicing Deal Falls Through

[Satellite News 01-17-12] Satellite operator Intelsat and Canadian space company MDA have terminated a $280 million in-orbit satellite life extension service agreement signed by the two companies in March 2011.
   The deal would have employed MDA’s space-based Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) vehicle to refuel, reposition or maintain commercial and government satellites. At the time it was announced, MDA and Intelsat said the companies would finalize specifications and other requirements before both parties authorize the build phase of the program. The first refueling mission was scheduled for 2015, or 3.5 years after the manufacturing phase began.
   The Intelsat, MDA partnership represented the first time that a major satellite operator had officially endorsed a satellite-refueling program. Intelsat General had previously attempted to advise the U.S. Department of Defense to finance the refueling of one of its satellites, but U.S. Air Force officials claimed that their current satellite fleets are undergoing replacements that have already been financed and that it would be difficult to find funds for a new program.
   Despite the lack of commitment from potential government and commercial customers, MDA said it is not completely abandoning the SIS program. In a Jan. 11 statement, MDA said it would “continue to pursue opportunities in this area,” and that it would bid on a U.S. government contract calling for proposals on satellite-repair missions. MDA expects that contract will be announced in February.
   On Jan. 3, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced it would award about $36 million in contracts to companies interested in building system components for its Phoenix program, which aims to retrofit or retrieve old satellites for reuse. DARPA officials said there are currently about 1,300 GEO satellites worth more than $300 billion in orbit that could be retrofitted for new purposes. DARPA’s Phoenix system employs a class of small nano-satellites that are designed to ride as a secondary passenger on a commercial satellite launch payload heading to GEO orbit. The nano-satellite would then attach to the antenna of a non-operational satellite to create a new space system.
   DARPA added that a Payload Orbital Delivery System (PODS) would also be designed under the program to safely house the nano-satellites for transport aboard a commercial satellite launch vehicle. In a statement, DARPA Program Manager David Barnhart said the agency expects to have an on-orbit demonstration of at least one successful aperture repurposing using a robotic GEO spacecraft in 2015 or 2016. The on-orbit demonstration will take place in either a GEO, super-GEO or graveyard orbit.
   In September, U.S. Space, which is also working on a re-servicing platform, completed a $291,159 contracted study of feasible acquisition alternatives to satisfy military satellite communications needs for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Military Satellite Communications Directorate.
   The U.S. Space study identified and examined alternative approaches to the existing military satellite acquisition model. The study recommended alterations to enable faster, more cost-effective, and more efficient solutions to meet U.S. Government needs, the company said.
   “The government must start doing business differently in order to provide our warfighters with all the satellite communications capabilities they need. The study recommends the use of innovative methods to acquire a portion of the dedicated Milsatcom capabilities by leveraging the commercial capital markets through a service provider to finance the needed capabilities,” U.S. Space CEO Air Force Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Craig Weston said in a statement. “All we need now is for the government to select the best of several models and for industry to step up. U.S. Space stands ready.”

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