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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Draper Joins SSL in Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites

Company that helped put a man on the Moon extends its capabilities to the commercialization of space

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Space satellites are about to get something they’ve never had before: curbside service. Such fix-it trips to space have long been considered too expensive and too difficult. Now a team led by Space Systems Loral, with support from Draper, seeks to do just that under DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

Until recently, the accepted practice among governments and commercial entities was that it was too expensive and too difficult to service a satellite on orbit. Anywhere from 12 to 36 satellites go into geosynchronous (GEO) orbit every year, and no one expects to fix them if something breaks. 

With RSGS, DARPA plans to develop a robotic module, including hardware and software, and provide technical expertise and a government-funded launch. SSL would provide a spacecraft and would be responsible for integrating the module onto it to create a robotic servicing vehicle (RSV) and the RSV onto the launch vehicle, as well as providing a mission operations center and staff. 

Draper, in support of RSGS and in collaboration with SSL, will provide technologies that aim to enable cooperative inspection and servicing of satellites in GEO, which is more than 20,000 miles above the Earth, and demonstrate those technologies on orbit. For the mission, Draper is supporting SSL in utilizing a robotic servicing platform equipped with a camera, robotic arm, fuel reserve and capabilities in GN&C rendezvous and proximity operations. 

When launched, the RSV promises to have the capability to perform multiple servicing missions for both planned and urgent customer needs, including: high-resolution inspection; refueling; correction of mechanical anomalies; assistance with relocation and other orbital maneuvers; and installation of attachable payloads, enabling upgrades to existing assets. SSL anticipates being able to market these services as a commercial business and is already in discussion with several key customers.

“This is a new era of advanced, cost-effective robotic capabilities in space, well-timed as the commercialization of space takes off,” said Seamus Tuohy, director of Space Systems at Draper. “At Draper, we occupy a special position within the space ecosystem that gives us deep expertise in what’s required—and how to deliver—commercial technologies that will perform in space. With today’s news, we bring the promise of space a little bit closer to all of us.”

Draper is also supporting SSL on NASA’s Restore-L mission to service satellites in Low Earth Orbit. Draper will assist SSL in utilizing a robotic servicing platform equipped with a camera, robotic arm, fuel reserve and capabilities in GN&C rendezvous and proximity operations. Beyond the refueling demonstration, the Restore-L project will test crosscutting technologies that are fundamental to NASA’s future exploration and science architectures.  

Draper’s fastest growth segment is its commercial business, which includes the commercialization of space. By applying multiple engineering disciplines to customer challenges, Draper has delivered commercial solutions for partners in biomedicine, technology, transportation, energy, space, defense, and many other segments. Draper engineers and scientists take cutting edge research conducted internally or from academia and combine it with state-of-the-art technologies to deliver field-ready prototypes of new capabilities that are greater than the sum of their parts. 

Draper’s contract work for RSGS will be performed in Huntsville, Ala., Cambridge, Mass., and Houston, Tex.

About SSL

Space Systems Loral (SSL) is a leading provider of commercial satellites with broad expertise to support satellite operators and innovative space related missions. The company designs and manufactures spacecraft for services such as direct-to-home television, video content distribution, broadband internet, mobile communications, and Earth observation. As a Silicon Valley innovator for 60 years, SSL’s advanced product line also includes state-of-the-art small satellites, and sophisticated robotics and automation solutions for remote operations. For more information, visit

Draper joins a team led by Space Systems Loral to service commercial satellites. Photo credit: Space Systems Loral DARPA’s RSGS Robotic Servicing Vehicle uses Draper technology in its robotic arms to repair a satellite on-orbit. Photo credit: DARPA Draper extends its space capabilities to servicing commercial satellites under the RSGS program led by SSL. Photo credit: DARPA
Capabilities Used
Positioning, Navigation & Timing (PNT)

Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).

Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.


Draper has designed and developed microelectronic components and systems going back to the mid-1980s. Our integrated, ultra-high density (iUHD) modules of heterogeneous components feature system functionality in the smallest form factor possible through integration of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with Draper-developed custom packaging and interconnect technology. Draper continues to pioneer custom Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and custom radio frequency components for both commercial (microfluidic platforms organ assist, drug development, etc.) and government (miniaturized data collection, new sensors, Micro-sats, etc.) applications.  Draper features a complete in-house iUHD and MEMS fabrication capability and has existing relationships with many other MEMS and microelectronics fabrication facilities. 

Fault-Tolerant Systems

Draper has developed mission-critical fault-tolerant systems for more than four decades. These systems are deployed in space, air, and undersea platforms that require extremely high reliability to accomplish challenging missions. These solutions incorporate robust hardware and software partitioning to achieve fault detection, identification and reconfiguration. Physical redundancy or multiple, identical designs protect against random hardware failures and employ rigor in evaluating differences in computed results to achieve exact consensus, even in the presence of faults. The latest designs leverage cost-effective, multicore commercial processors to implement software-based redundancy management systems in compact single-board layouts that perform the key timing, communication, synchronization and voting algorithm functions needed to maintain seamless operation after one, two or three arbitrary faults of individual components.

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