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DC-based satellite builder Orbital ATK is working with US space agency NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) to establish a Commercial Infrastructure for Robotic Assembly and Services (CIRAS) in space.
Setting aside the clumsy acronyms, the core news is that Orbital ATK will develop a ‘public-private’ business to develop a robotic assembly and servicing programme for NASA.
Orbital ATK is already building its Mission Extension Vehicle, frequently referred to as a ‘space tug’ and designed to have the ability in space to re-fuel and rescue orbiting commercial satellites. Intelsat has ordered one of the spacecraft.
“Orbital ATK, and our Space Logistics subsidiary are pioneering the future of commercial space technology,” said Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK Space Systems Group President. “Through this partnership and the first phase of the contract award, we will demonstrate our space logistics capabilities with new robotics technology. Our CIRAS team will create technologies that will advance the nation’s capability for building the framework needed for NASA’s journey to Mars, as well as shape the future of commercial space infrastructure.”
Phase 1 of the scheme is already up and running having started in September, and is planned to take two years. “During this period, Orbital ATK will lead the team in maturing technologies necessary for robotic assembly of large space structures. These capabilities include methods to connect or disconnect joints on a structure and address precision measuring and alignment through a 15-metre robotic arm and a precision robot. The team will also develop the technology needed to conduct in-orbit modular assembly of structures, allowing parts to be brought to space as needed via multiple launches, which simplifies the design of spacecraft and reduces cost,” says Orbital.
Orbital ATK will serve as prime contractor of the CIRAS programme, with support provided from its wholly owned subsidiary, Space Logistics, along with NASA’s Langley Research Center, NASA’s Glenn Research Center and the US Naval Research Laboratory.