DARPA Creates Space Robotics Consortium

November 29, 2016

Recent technological advances have brought the on-orbit robotic servicing of satellites closer to reality. Now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has kicked off the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) to tackle the lack of clear, widely accepted technical and safety standards for responsible performance of on-orbit activities involving commercial satellites.

 Those activities include rendezvous and proximity operations that don’t involve physical contact with satellites and robotic servicing operations that would. The potential advantages of on-orbit robotic servicing could be enormous DARPA officials say in a written statement. Benefits include significantly lowering construction and deployment costs while dramatically extending satellite utility, resilience and reliability.

Through CONFERS, DARPA aims to establish an industry and government forum composed of experts from throughout the space community. Participants will leverage best practices to research, develop and publish non-binding, consensus-derived technical and safety standards for on-orbit servicing operations. In doing so, the program will provide a clear technical basis for definitions and expectations of responsible behavior in outer space.

The CONFERS program will be executed by an administrative organization that will address the primary areas of consortium organization, technical leadership and management, and standards development. DARPA aims to transfer CONFERS leadership and funding to industry before fiscal 2021, the year in which the agency is scheduled to perform its first on-orbit demonstration of the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellite program solution.

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