MDA announced on Friday that it was extending its the requirements definition phase of its previously announced ambitious Satellite Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) initiative by three months.
Announced in mid-March, the Space Infrastructure Servicing vehicle is an on-orbit servicing spacecraft that will initially carry up to 2,000 kilograms of fuel and a suite of robotic tools to service satellites of which Intelsat will be the first customer. The servicing of these satellites is expected to extend the life of each satellite from one to five years depending on the customers needs.
The extension comes with the blessing of its anchor tenant, Intelsat. According to MDA “extending the requirements definition phase will give the Company the opportunity to better understand the changes necessary to address the balance between potential commercial and government customers, to evaluate whether NASA intends to fund a competing solution to our commercial initiative, and to advance the dialogue with regulators, customers and suppliers.”
NASA for it’s part performed many studies in the 80’s on satellite servicing and last year conducted a satellite servicing study “to assess the feasibility, practicality, and cost of servicing satellites using elements of currently planned and future NASA human spaceflight systems and/or robotic technologies.”
The final report of that study (PDF 7.2MB) is to presented to the U.S. Congress. However given the current fiscal realities facing NASA it is unlikely at this time that NASA would embark on the development of such a program. Next month NASA is expected to announce how it will proceed with the Congress mandated Space Launch System to begin building a Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) which will be an expensive endeavour and eat into its already tight budget. Development of an HLV will most likely require reallocation of NASA resources resulting in some programs being cut or cut back.
Given that MDA is obviously after the largest market possible for its on-orbit solution it is prudent to extend the definition phase to see what NASA will do. However given that MDA , a commercial entity, has already proposed a solution and is investing its own resources to make it happen, one wonders why NASA would also move forward with its own on-orbit servicing initiative considering what’s on its plate in these tight fiscal times.