Artemis 1 Mission

Is in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing a game changer?

Starfish Space's Otter space tug for satellite servicing and debris removal. Credit: Starfish Space.

A new paper from the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy provides a synopsis of the emerging In-space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM) sector.

It’s clear from the paper that the authors, Alec J. Cavaciuti, Joseph H. Heying, and Joshua Davis believe ISAM is a game changer, but they also realize that there are obstacles.

For this paper the authors provided the following parameters of what ISAM is:

  • An up-close inspection of another resident space object (RSO)
  • Intentional and beneficial changes to another RSO
  • Physical attachment of two space objects together
  • The manufacture of hardware on-orbit

They also outlined the advantages;

  • Extends the lifetimes and increases performance of satellites through inspection, refuel, repair, and upgrade capabilities which could contribute to greater return on investment.
  • Contributes to space industry sustainability or “circular economy” of space through reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products.
  • Reduces orbital congestion through deorbit technology and by extending the lifetimes of existing satellites, which reduces the need for the launch of new orbital assets.
  • Enables flexible next-generation architectures and in-space assembly of structures.

And challenges;

  • The space sector has not yet established a successful ISAM demonstration track record to drive down risk for operational client space objects.
  • The current legal framework is not always sufficient to address liability, and faults can be difficult to assess and attribute.
  • Inexpensive, short-lifetime satellites and reduced launch costs can make replacement cheaper than servicing for some applications.
  • Industry lacks consensus for interoperability and interface standards.
  • The dual-use nature of ISAM technology could create opportunities for anti-satellite capabilities, which are counterproductive to space sustainability goals.
Figure 1: ISAM Market Maturation Path. At any point in time, market maturity phases. However, most ISAM technologies will agree on and adopt interoperability standards into their designs various ISAM-related technologies might exist at different not advance beyond early market phases until stakeholders and business models. Credit: Center for Space Policy and Strategy.
Figure 1: ISAM Market Maturation Path. At any point in time, market maturity phases. However, most ISAM technologies will agree on and adopt interoperability standards into their designs various ISAM-related technologies might exist at different not advance beyond early market phases until stakeholders and business models. Credit: Center for Space Policy and Strategy.

In the background and history section, the paper provides some insight on recent developments stating;

The United States government (USG) “initiatives and national strategy play an important role in the early stages of establishing ISAM technologies and architectures to match international progress made in the field. In late 2020, the U.S. created a new On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) National Initiative to encourage technological progress in governmental and commercial OSAM.”

“One of the initiative’s near-term goals proposes capability assessments to further determine technological gaps and influence how governmental agencies invest in ISAM developments. In April of 2022, the In-space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM) National Strategy, a product of the ISAM Interagency Working Group of the National Science and Technology Council, was released on behalf of the White House. The National Strategy establishes six goals that chart a course towards realizing opportunities enabled by ISAM and addresses three challenges associated with realizing these opportunities. ISAM National Strategy intends to improve USG stakeholder collaboration, generate a demand signal, and accelerate the establishment of standards. Together, the OSAM National Initiative and ISAM National Strategy plan to accelerate the adoption of more robust ISAM capabilities, maintaining the U.S.’ role as a leader in the global commons of space.”

Another issue common in developing new technology and related services is terminology and defining standards. Enter the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) who are working on both. Our Space Economy podcast featured a presentation by CONFERS Executive Director Brian Weeden on the topic.

The full paper is available to read below or download.

Cavaciuti-Davis-Heying_ISAM_20220715

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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