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MDA to be key supplier in satellite servicing demonstration for US Government

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. announced that it has been selected as a key participant to support the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Phoenix Program.


MDA will provide a variety of servicing technologies and capabilities to the program, under multiple contracts to DARPA and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). These contracts will build on MDA’s world leading capabilities from its operations in both Canada and the U.S.

The goal of the DARPA Phoenix Program is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively repurpose valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost. The mission will use a robotic on-orbit servicer, and components launched alongside commercial satellites.

The program also hopes to transition its developing technologies into sustainable commercial applications, that in turn support U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) needs in the future, and MDA is under contract from DARPA to assist with defining this commercialization plan as well.

“MDA’s heritage of robotics and on-orbit servicing successes are a good match for the DARPA Phoenix program.  We look forward to working with DARPA to demonstrate space infrastructure servicing” said Daniel Friedmann, president and CEO of MDA.

Assuming the program proceeds as planned, the overall multi-year program represents a significant opportunity for MDA and a significant step forward for demonstrating certain aspects of on-orbit servicing.
A core element of the program is two primary robotic manipulator arms. MDA is working with the Naval Research Laboratory via DARPA to provide those arms. Assuming all phases of the program are funded, the total scope for that element of the program, which is sole-sourced from MDA, is expected to not exceed $27.2 million.

Beyond the robotic arms themselves, MDA has also been awarded two separate contracts from DARPA that will develop key robotic servicing technologies. These include advanced robotic tools, cameras, tool caddies, and advanced designs for a hyper-dexterous robot.

An important element of the mission concept is the ability to launch components into space frequently and cost effectively, by piggybacking their launch onto a regular commercial satellite launch. MDA is under contract from DARPA to design and prototype the delivery system in which the components are sent to orbit (called PODS).

Phase 1 of the program is under contract now and MDA’s scope (not including the sole-sourced robotics arms) is approximately $2.6 million, which is expected to grow when Phase 2 gets underway next year.