Space Systems/Loral, a leading provider of commercial satellites, announced July 18 that it was one of the companies selected by NASA to study system concepts and key technologies for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which is expected to be a key part of the agency’s path to sending humans to Mars.
SSL will conduct two studies; one that examines using MDA robotic technology for asteroid capture, and one that examines adapting commercial spacecraft for the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle.
“SSL is committed to helping NASA leverage the value of commercial partnerships,” said John Celli, president of SSL. “The Asteroid Redirect Mission is an excellent example of how we can bring together SSL’s commercial bus and MDA robotics technology in support of NASA programs.”
SSL and MDA will work together with Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation on the “Autonomous Boulder Liberation Equipment” study. The companies will collaborate to demonstrate the robotic placement and handling of excavation and capture tools to remove a boulder from the surface of an asteroid.
Honeybee has more than two decades of experience developing planetary sampling and processing systems. Its work is highly complementary to MDA robotics, which are in current use on the International Space Station and on the Mars Rovers.
“Under SSL’s leadership, we have an exceptional team of experts to plan out the boulder liberation mission,” said Stephen Gorevan, chairman and co-founder of Honeybee Robotics.
“This is a great opportunity for Honeybee to apply our heritage of planetary sampling technology with a strong partner in the industry. We’re excited to be working with SSL to support NASA’s mission and contribute to future human planetary exploration.”
For the “Asteroid Redirect Vehicle” study, SSL will examine how to adapt commercial spacecraft and will define system concepts that leverage SSL’s commercial bus, the SSL 1300. With 74 commercial satellites based on this platform currently in geostationary orbit, it provides a very cost-effective and well-proven design that can be adapted to a variety of applications.
SSL has already proven its capability to leverage its commercial platform in support of NASA initiatives with the propulsion system for NASA’s recent Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, which successfully completed its mission earlier this year.
In a statement released last month, James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington said: “By investing in these studies, NASA will gain valuable insight into affordable ways to perform the Asteroid Redirect Mission while also advancing technologies needed to drive future exploration missions.”