US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has completed an agreement with the Space Systems Loral (SSL) for s satellite servicing program that Orbital ATK was contesting against DARPA.
DARPA had filed a motion in the federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed in February by Orbital ATK about the award to SSL in regard to the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program. SSL made the announcement of the agreement Wednesday, a day after the motion was filed.
Even before signing the agreement, SSL was starting work on the RSGS program. “We’re already underway with our work,” Steve Oldham, senior vice president of strategic business development of SSL, was quoted as saying in a recent interview by Space News. “We set up a team once we were informed by DARPA that we were selected.”
Oldham said it would take about three and a half years to develop the RSGS satellite, with a launch in 2021. “It’s full steam ahead as far as we’re concerned,” he said.
In February this year, Orbital ATK has sued DARPA questioning its RSGS program as a competition to commercial enterprises and also a violation of the US National Space Policy.
Orbital ATK has invested about $100 million in what it says a similar system, Orbital Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) that competes directly with the DARPA program. The policy requires “that the government not build or buy systems” that “preclude, discourage or compete” with commercial systems, the company said in a statement.
DARPA in May 2015, circulated a proposal for a consortium of companies to partner with it to pursue RSGS technology.
As part of its proposal, DARPA attempted to provide an explanation for why the original Phoenix concept of the existing FREND (Front-end Robotics Enabling Near-term Demonstration, another DARPA program) technology was insufficient stating, “RSGS program must go beyond demonstration alone. Real-world servicing missions, requests by operators of satellites on orbit, will have significant impact on the aerospace industry,” the complaint said.
DARPA selected SSL for the program two days after the lawsuit was filed. According to the agreement, SSL would operate the vehicle and make cooperative servicing available to both military and commercial GEO satellite owners on a fee-for-service basis.