On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing

On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing


The rapid increase in commercial and government investment has created a space domain that is ever growing in complexity. A key problem is how best to manage costs with limited launch capabilities and spacecraft lifetimes. One possible solution would be to use autonomous robotic spacecraft to perform work on spacecraft in situ. This would include duties such as on-orbit inspection, repair, functional upgrades, refueling and decommissioning/de-orbiting.

Additional Context to Problem Statement: 

Traditional spacecraft are typically fully fabricated on ground for a fixed mission and lifetime with little opportunity for change once in orbit. For example, when damage occurs they cannot be repaired, when sensor technology improves they cannot be upgraded, and when fuel is consumed they lose maneuverability. In most cases, the only solution is to launch an entirely new replacement spacecraft. This is both expensive, time consuming, wasteful, and results in low mission responsivity and flexibility. Additionally, launch constraints impose limits on size, complexity of spacecraft if there is no option to assemble or manufacture in orbit.

Advances in autonomy, robotics and additive manufacturing have made it possible to consider a new paradigm – that of on-orbit servicing, assembly and manufacturing. We are seeking ideas from ways to repair, upgrade and refuel spacecraft, methods for fault inspection and diagnosis, and concepts for space-based robotics and autonomous operation. This challenge may also consider new approaches to construction and assembly to create large, low-mass structures and instruments. This could include materials processing and additive manufacturing in the space environment.

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