On-Orbit Servicing

  • On-orbit servicing enables technology upgrades, repairs, and inspection of military satellites so that they can be maintained and kept in service for longer. OOS also enables the ability to maneuver these satellites without regret and can help speed up acquisition timelines.
  • Developing robust OOS capabilities is integral to maintaining superior space mobility & logistics (SML).
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Opportunities for U.S. Military Satellite Resiliency

Satellites endure the harsh environment of space almost completely on their own. If something goes wrong, it is extremely difficult to physically access a satellite once it is in orbit. It has been this way since the first satellite was launched in 1957. Imagine the air conditioning in a house breaks, but you cannot fix it. So instead, you must abandon the house and buy a new one. Or imagine that every time a car runs out of gas, you take it to the junkyard and then buy a new car. This is how satellites are treated on-orbit. When satellites run out of propellant, they are deorbited or retired to a graveyard orbit. Or if something breaks—say, a solar panel fails to deploy—millions or even billions of dollars could be lost over a potentially simple mechanical anomaly.

Military satellites launched to geostationary orbit (GEO) can cost over a billion dollars. On Earth, multimillion-dollar military assets do not sit untended; they are periodically serviced and upgraded over time. As competition in space rises, satellite owners and operators need to start thinking about how servicing capabilities used on Earth can be extrapolated for use in space.

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