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NASA Ends $2 Billion Satellite Refueling Project Amid Challenges
file illustration of OSAM-1
NASA Ends $2 Billion Satellite Refueling Project Amid Challenges
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Mar 03, 2024

NASA has announced the termination of the On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1) project. This decision, revealed on March 1, 2024, follows nearly a decade of development and an investment of around $2 billion, highlighting the challenges the project faced in terms of technical complexities, cost increases, and changing market dynamics.

The OSAM-1 project, led by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, with Maxar Space Systems as the main contractor, aimed to demonstrate the feasibility of on-orbit satellite servicing. This included refueling missions for the Landsat 7 imagery satellite and capabilities for assembling and manufacturing components in space. The project planned to use a Space Infrastructure Dexterous Robot (SPIDER) for these tasks, including the in-space fabrication of a 32-foot carbon fiber composite beam - a technology expected to enable the construction of large spacecraft structures in orbit.

However, the initiative encountered hurdles. A report from NASA's Inspector General indicated the project was on course to exceed its $2.05 billion budget and miss its December 2026 launch window. The audit attributed these issues primarily to Maxar, noting the company underestimated the project's scope and complexity, lacked a full understanding of NASA's technical requirements, and had a deficiency in necessary expertise.

In response to the cancellation, Maxar stated its commitment to assisting NASA in identifying potential new partnerships or alternative applications for the hardware. Despite the project's conclusion, NASA had hoped OSAM-1 would support its future missions and catalyze a domestic satellite servicing industry, projected to be worth $5 billion by 2030.

This development marks a shift in the landscape of on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing. The project's discontinuation highlights changing priorities within the space community, increasingly moving away from refueling unprepared spacecraft, leading to a lack of committed partners.

The impact of the project's cancellation extends to the workforce at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The agency is evaluating strategies to mitigate the impact on its employees, reflecting the broader challenges in balancing technological advancements with fiscal and practical realities.

Related Links
OSAM Program
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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