DARPA inks deal with private company to develop satellite-fixing space robot

DARPA has revealed the partner that will work with it on developing 'advanced robotic capabilities in space.' The project aims to deploy a space robot that will be able to fix and improve US satellites that are already in orbit. The work is being performed under DARPA's Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program; the development of the robot is described as the first step in the program.

Satellites can operate for years in space, but small issues may put them out of commission. By deploying a robotic servicing device, DARPA says that it could ultimately increase the lifespan of America's existing satellites, 'enhance' how resilient they are and improve their reliability. The robotic servicer, once it is deployed, would be operated by a commercial third-party entity.

In an announcement this month, DARPA said that it has chosen Northrop Grumman's subsidiary Space Logistics to work with it on the development and deployment of the robotic satellite mechanic. The company has signed an 'Other Transactions for Prototypes' agreement with DARPA, according to the agency. This is the latest development in the program following its initiation back in 2016.

In a statement, DARPA Tactical Technology Office director Dr. Michael Leahy said:

DARPA remains committed to a commercial partnership for the execution of the RSGS mission. Building upon the successes of the DARPA Orbital Express mission and the recent successful docking of Space Logistics' Mission Extension Vehicle-1, the agency seeks to bring dexterous on-orbit servicing to spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), and to establish that inspection, repair, life extension, and improvement of our valuable GEO assets can be made possible and even routine.

With this new deal in place, DARPA says that it can move forward with the 'development, launch, and orbital operations' of this spacecraft. DARPA will provide the dexterous robotic payload, according to the agency, while Space Logistics will use its tech to deliver the spacecraft bus. As well, the private space company will integrate the robot with its launch vehicle and launch it into space, among other things.