MDA’s U.S. Subsidiary SSL RESTORE-L Mission Hits Presidential Roadblock

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

NASA appears to have been spared a major cut to its budget according to the NASA 2018 Fiscal Year (FY) Budget Blueprint. The Trump Administration’s FY2018 budget blueprint would see less than a 1% cut to NASA’s budget and is proposing it be set at $19.1 billion. 

However, NASA’s Budget Blueprint includes a line item related to the RESTORE-L mission that would see the budget for this mission reduced by US$88 million. Specifically the NASA Budget Blueprint states that it “Restructures a duplicative robotic satellite refueling demonstration mission to reduce its cost and better position it to support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry, resulting in a savings of $88 million from the 2017 annualized CR (Continuing Resolution) level.”

That could put a significant damper on MDA’s U.S. subsidiary SSL’s recent contract win for the RESTORE-L Satellite Servicing mission. The budget for RESTORE-L would presumably be cut down to US$45 million based on the US$133 million allocated in 2016.

It was just last December that SSL was awarded a US$127 million contract to build the spacecraft satellite bus for the mission.

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is supportive of the commercial sector. However the administration is also out to cut what it sees as duplication within agencies and across agencies.

SSL which in February won another satellite servicing contract, this time with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, has seen that contract come under fire as well, with Orbital ATK suing DARPA over the contract award.

In January U.S. Representatives Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) wrote Acting DARPA Director Steven Walker “urging him to ‘stop any further action on RSGS’ until DARPA completes a review ‘to ensure its compliance with the 2010 national space policy’” according to Space News. At the same time, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) sent his own letters to Walker and Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work “saying the RSGS program essentially duplicates NASA’s Restore-L mission and muddies the business case for commercial companies.”

The Budget Blueprint is what the Trump administration is proposing, it’s not the final budget, and there’s no doubt there’ll be some push back from congressional representatives who support SSL. Until such a time as the budget is passed, and that could take awhile, the RESTORE-L mission budget isn’t final.

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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