Space Systems/Loral (SSL), a Palo Alto, CA-based provider of commercial satellites, announced on August 26 that it was awarded a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA) to study on-orbit robotic assembly of geostationary communications satellites. Called Dragonfly, the program is designed to enable larger and more powerful satellites that cannot be launched fully assembled, to be packaged in pieces within a standard launch vehicle fairing.
“The Dragonfly program gives SSL the opportunity to demonstrate our advanced robotics capabilities with a mission that has the potential to transform the way satellites are built,” said John Celli, president of SSL. “SSL has a track record of partnering with DARPA on cost-effective developments that leverage commercial practices and apply to both military and commercial use.”
As one of the world’s most prolific manufacturers of geostationary communications satellites, SSL brings a wealth of expertise to the Dragonfly study including heritage robotics. The Dragonfly concept, which is designed to have both military and commercial applications, is for satellites to self-assemble from an efficiently stowed state while in orbit with a focus on the installation and reconfiguration of large radio frequency (RF) antenna reflectors.
The study is scheduled for a five-month first phase during which SSL will seek to demonstrate how assembling satellites on orbit could lower satellite cost and mass, while at the same time enabling higher satellite performance. SSL is planning to further develop on-orbit satellite assembly capability and as part of this effort, has submitted a proposal to NASA for collaboration on taking the concept to a ground demonstration followed by a flight application.
Source: MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.