A subsidiary of a Canadian company has won a contract to build space robots for the Pentagon.
But don't get excited (or scared) by the prospect of a made-in-Canada army of Terminators in space. These robots are meant to be mechanics, not soldiers. And the whole thing could still be scuttled by a lawsuit.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA for short, has launched a project to develop robots that can repair satellites in space. DARPA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defence.
An artist's rendering of DARPA's plans for a space robot that can repair satellites. The full video can be found here.
DARPA wants to create a “robotic servicing vehicle that could make house calls in space. If successful, the effort could radically lower the risk and cost of operating in [orbit].”
The technology could be a game-changer: Satellite owners would have to leave far fewer broken or damaged satellites for dead.
That contract has gone to Space Systems Loral (SSL), a California subsidiary of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), a British Columbia-based IT company.
But the news spurred Virginia-based aerospace manufacturer Orbital ATK to launch a lawsuit against DARPA, calling the project “illegal.”
Orbital, a competitor of SSL, said in its lawsuit filed Monday that DARPA’s project violates the U.S.’s 2010 National Space Policy, which forbids government agencies to run space programs that compete with the private sector.
DARPA “intends to give away this technology to a foreign-owned company for that company’s sole commercial use,” the company said, as quoted at Space News.
Robotic arms repair a satellite in this handout photo from SSL.
But as Sputnik News notes, the National Reconnaissance Office — the division of the Pentagon that operates spy satellites — stands to benefit from the project.
Steve Oldham, SSL's senior VP for strategic business development, said in a statement that the technology "will be marketed to both commercial and government satellite operators, providing them with unprecedented flexibility in fleet management and capital deployment."
The company says it is "already in discussion with several key customers."
The SSL project, if it goes ahead, is slated to be completed by December, 2021.