Maxar to work with NASA to demonstrate orbital manufacturing and spacecraft assembly with a new robotic arm
NASA has selected Maxar Technologies, an Earth Intelligence and Space Infrastructure company, to perform an in-space assembly demonstration using a lightweight robotic arm. The arm, called SPIDER (Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot), will be integrated with the spacecraft bus Maxar is building for NASA’s Restore-L project, which plans to refuel a satellite in low Earth orbit.
The award is valued at $142 million and follows a successful ground demonstration in 2017, and a review in August 2018 that validated Maxar’s first-generation end-to-end system architecture and detailed robotic arm design. Maxar is identifying roughly $2 million of work to be performed by West Virginia University through its West Virginia Robotic Technology Center, including independent verification of SPIDER’s capabilities through multiple performance studies to increase the reliability of in-space assembly tasks. The program was called Dragonfly during the design and ground demonstration phase.
SPIDER will be built by Maxar’s team in Pasadena, Calif., which has previously delivered six robotic arms for NASA’s Mars rovers and landers, including the arm currently operating on InSight Lander and an arm for the upcoming Mars 2020 Rover.
SPIDER will enable spacecraft components to be robotically assembled and reconfigured while on-orbit. For Restore-L, SPIDER will assemble multiple antenna reflector elements into one large antenna reflector. This revolutionary process allows satellites, telescopes and other systems to use larger and more powerful components that might not fit into a standard rocket fairing when fully assembled. The technologies developed under SPIDER could ultimately enable entirely new architectures and space infrastructure for a wide range of government and commercial missions, including commercial satellites, human space exploration to the Moon and Mars under the Artemis program and in-space telescope assembly.
SPIDER will also demonstrate in-space manufacturing using Tethers Unlimited’s MakerSat. MakerSat will manufacture a 10-meter lightweight composite beam, verifying its capability to form large spacecraft truss structures for future missions. As it manufactures the beam, MakerSat will characterize the beam’s shape and structural performance to determine if a structure built in space performs differently than one made here on Earth.
“Maxar has always led innovation in space infrastructure, transforming the commercial satellite industry with advances such as high-throughput satellite technologies for high-speed internet and powerful electric propulsion for next-generation space transportation,” said Megan Fitzgerald, Maxar’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, Space Infrastructure. “SPIDER, in combination with our flexible 1300-class spacecraft bus and technologies for in-space operations, will enable new applications in communications and remote sensing satellites, large in-space assembled telescopes and future exploration missions that support a sustained human presence beyond Earth orbit. We’re delighted to add this innovative program to our growing civil and government space portfolio.”