ATK Closed Loop Software Test Milestone Accomplished
BELTSVILLE, MD . – ViviSat, the leading provider of in-orbit servicing, has opened the ATK Robotic Rendezvous and Proximity (RPO) testing facility to ViviSat clients at ATK’s Space Systems Division headquarters in Beltsville, MD. Tours of the facility for ViviSat clients began during the Satellite 2013 Conference that was held March 18-21st in Washington, D.C.
The recently opened RPO facility allows ViviSat and one of its parent companies, ATK, to demonstrate and verify critical enabling technologies for today’s more complicated space missions. The lab uses state of the art robotic and air-bearing testbeds to simulate satellite motion and facilitate hardware and software development and validation.
The development of technology for controlled approach and docking between spacecraft supports ViviSat’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV). The MEV, manufactured by ATK, is designed to dock with the orbiting satellite and serve as the propulsion and attitude control systems. This enables mission extension for satellites which have run out of maneuvering fuel yet still have healthy payload and power systems.
The ATK Space Systems Division completed two prototype docking mechanisms that will reinforce the MEV’s ongoing development. These prototypes demonstrate servicing capabilities to potential clients and will be used to validate contact dynamics and docking performance in the ATK RPO lab. ATK also recently completed initial testing of closed loop proximity operations, demonstrating the ability to track a simulated host satellite using a prototype visual sensor suite.
“The ATK Robotic RPO Lab demonstrates a substantial investment in retiring risk for ViviSat and its clients. The capability currently demonstrated is the first step in our plans to perform full six degree of freedom docking validation and qualification,” said Tom Wilson, Vice President and General Manager of ATK Space Systems Division.
“We demonstrated this closed loop capability to several clients and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. They see these developments as further validation that ViviSat is making key qualification milestones and demonstrating real capabilities to provide in-orbit servicing,” said Bryan McGuirk, Chief Operating Officer of ViviSat.
Further information about ViviSat can be found at the company’s website, http://www.vivisat.com
Certain information discussed in this press release constitutes forward-looking statements as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Although ATK and U.S. Space believe that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, they can give no assurance that their expectations will be achieved. Forward-looking information is subject to certain risks, trends, and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected. Among these factors are: technical challenges associated with the development and performance of advanced space technologies and services, and assumptions regarding the development of commercial and governmental markets for in-orbit mission extension and operations protection. Neither ATK nor U.S. Space undertakes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements. For further information on factors that could impact ATK, and statements contained herein, please refer to ATK’s most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and any subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and current reports on Form 8-K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
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U.S. Space LLC is a U.S.-owned provider of dedicated, commercial space solutions. The company was established in January 2009 as a U.S.-owned provider of satellite solutions with a unique model combining the best commercial and government practices. The company, which is run by a small group of highly respected former military and corporate leaders, now offers a variety of dedicated space solutions to serve the nation’s interests. More information on the company is available at www.usspacellc.com.
ATK is an aerospace, defense, and commercial products company with operations in 21 states, Puerto Rico, and internationally. News and information can be found on the Internet at www.atk.com.MEDIA CONTACT: Vicki Cox ATK 301-902-4372 email@example.com
Owen D. Kurtin / Via Satellite
Satellite life extension continues to hold both revolutionary promise and disruptive menace for the satellite and space industry. The useful lifetime of geosynchronous orbit satellites averages about fifteen years – a limit primarily imposed by the exhaustion of propellant aboard. The propellant is needed for “station-keeping,” which means maintaining the satellite in its orbital slot and in-orbit orientation, or attitude, so that its antennae and solar panels are properly pointed. When the propellant is nearly exhausted, the satellite reaches the end of its active life and must be moved to a “graveyard” orbital slot, even though the satellite’s other systems and payload are often in working order.
The fifteen-year replacement cycle drives the satellite industry; from the capital expenditure cycles of satellite operators, the financing they seek for those expenditures, to the resulting order books of satellite manufacturers and launch service providers. Low Earth Orbit satellites may have even shorter life spans, due to the increased atmospheric drag and friction to which they are subject.
Since last year, a hardy band of commercial operators have continued to make headway in reaching for this industry grail and rendering it a tangible reality. NASA and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) “Phoenix” program have joined the private sector players in attempting to develop robotic vehicles to rendezvous and dock with and revive dead or dying satellites.
Current satellite life extension proposals come in two principal flavors, both involving rendezvous and docking with an in-orbit satellite nearing the end of its planned lifespan by a robot vehicle launched for this purpose. The robotic satellite life extension vehicles will, in some conceptions, remain attached to the satellite and become a new power and booster module, fueled by new consumables ferried into space within the robot life extender. In other conceptions, the robotic vehicle rendezvous and docks with the in-orbit satellite, refuels it and then disengages from the satellite. The advantage of this second type of mission profile is that, while in some views more technically complex, it allows theoretically for a robot life extender to be sent on a mission to several dying satellites, docking with and refueling one after the other, and allowing the cost of the mission to be amortized among the satellites serviced, or even among more than one satellite operator. Nor is refueling a satellite for in-orbit attitude control and station-keeping the only possible satellite life extension technology; other modular components of orbiting satellites could theoretically be replaced – even payload components.
These technologies will not make satellites immortal; most estimates are that up to five years could be added to the average satellite’s useful life, extending that lifespan by a third. All proposals would require buy-in by prime satellite manufacturers, because serviceable satellites would have to be designed with docking ports, fuel access and other modular components accessible, removable and replaceable by the robot servicer. That, in turn, will probably require pressure by the satellite operators, the manufacturers’ customers. In an already small market of thin margins, in which 20 to 25 large geosynchronous satellites ordered per year is the norm, satellite life extension technology, if successful, would be enormously disruptive to the manufacturers’ existing business model. Of course, that model might change, and not only would the robots servicers themselves have to be manufactured, but longer-lived satellites with modular, replaceable components might lead to new demand and increased orders.
In any event, satellite life extension is moving from “pie-in-the-sky” territory to reality. McDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Inc. and Space Systems Loral, which MDA purchased in November; Intelsat General Corporation, in charge of Intelsat’s “hosted payload” initiative; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have all been awarded DARPA “Phoenix” contracts, intended to develop technologies and an unmanned spacecraft to harvest components from dead satellites, dispose of the detritus, and revive dying satellites. Another company, Vivisat, a joint venture of U.S. Space and ATK, is developing plans for a “Mission Extension Vehicle,” capable of docking with an in-orbit satellite and serving as a supplemental propulsion system. How close is satellite life extension to reality, and what would be the effects on industry if it came to pass?