MDA Scores a Win in Long Sought After Satellite Servicing Business Segment

The Restore-L servicer extends its robotic arm to grasp and refuel a client satellite on orbit. Credit: NASA.

It seems patience pays off. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) yesterday announced that MDA’s U.S. subsidiary Space Systems Loral (SSL) has won a $127 million contract to develop the Restore-L Spacecraft Bus which will be used to service a government satellite in low earth orbit.

According to the NASA press release, SSL “will provide spacecraft bus, critical hardware and services for the development, deployment and operations of the Restore-L mission. They also will provide related services to accomplish mission integration, test, launch and operations.”

On-orbit satellite servicing is a business segment MDA has been trying to develop since 2010. Their first foray was in 2011 when they signed Intelsat as an anchor tenant for on-orbit servicing, but the initiative failed to take-off when they couldn’t drum up any U.S. government support.

They kept at it though, eventually making progress after the acquisition of SSL. Working with NASA’s GSFC on the Robotic Refueling Mission experiments on the International Space Station using MDA built robotic tools including Canadarm2, DEXTRE and the Mobile Servicing System helped the project along.

The contract puts MDA in good position going forward. The goal of on-orbit satellite servicing is to extend the life of satellites, particularly those large costly communication satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Should this technology demonstration be successful there could be further lucrative contracts for the company or companies that service satellites in orbit.

Editor’s update: 4:00 p.m. EST: MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.(MDA) created a holding company called SSL MDA Holdings Inc. of Delaware. That holding company includes Space Systems Loral (SSL) and other business units including the Canadian business units. However, SSL MDA Holdings Inc. is 100% owned by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the public Canadian company.

MDA created the holding company to further its strategy of gaining U.S. market share for SSL and other subsidiaries because it could not gain that access through its Canadian company, primarily due to security reasons. However, there seems to be some confusion by some as to whether MDA is still a Canadian company. The answer is an unequivocal, yes.

MDA is a publicly traded Canadian company on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). MDA, as publicly traded company, reports quarterly financial activity which includes SSL revenue.

For those who aren’t familiar with the economic term, holding company, it is defined as a company that controls or or more other companies, normally by holding a majority of the shares of the subsidiaries. The holding company is concerned with control and not investment.

It is clear that in order to grow its business, MDA has evolved from beyond its modest Canadian roots to a true multi-national which is striving to build shareholder value.

Note An earlier version of this story did not include the fact that MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. owns 100% of the SSL MDA Holdings Inc. holding company.

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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