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Satnews Daily
October 6th, 2017

DARPA Develops 'Rules of the Road' for On-Orbit Satellite Servicing

ARLINGTON, Va. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials initiated the first phase of the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) program. Advanced Technology International (ATI), based in Summerville, South Carolina, is leading the first phase of the contract to dive into the "rules of the road" concept widely accepted in the way people and vehicles travel. 

The goal of CONFERS is to achieve a permanent, self-sustaining, and independent forum where industry could collaborate and engage with the U.S. Government in research about on-orbit servicing, as well as drive the creation of standards that servicing providers and clients would adopt. CONFERS will address challenges and provide the foundation for a new commercial repertoire of robust space-based capabilities. 

Image by DARPA

The lack of clear, widely accepted technical and safety standards for responsible performance of on-orbit activities involving commercial satellites remains a major obstacle to further expansion of commercial and government space operations, and could put long-term sustainability at risk.

Through collaboration with industry, government space experts, and stakeholders, the consortium aims to benefit the entire on-orbit servicing industry by building common understanding between developers, operators, customers, investors, insurers, and government policy makers while protecting commercial participants’ financial and strategic interests. 

The standards would be broad enough to allow individual companies to pursue their own implementations of these standards to suit their individual businesses, while assuring that the implementations adhere to best practices for operational safety.

“The emerging capability to finally conduct cooperative, fully robotic servicing operations on orbit stands poised to fundamentally transform the way that we build, operate, and replace spacecraft—but we need to agree how to do it safely and responsibly,” says Todd Master, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “CONFERS seeks era-transforming improvements through research to develop the first ‘rules of the road’ for cooperative on-orbit operations. We believe these standards will both accelerate the commercial servicing marketplace and provide the foundation for safe and responsible space-based capabilities for the 21st century and beyond.”

Learn more about CONFERS here.

Mariana Iriarte, Associate Editor, Military Embedded Systems