Artist'S Rendering Of The Osam-1 Spacecraft (Bottom) Docking With The Landsat 7 Satellite (Top) In Orbit.
To enlarge / Artist’s rendering of the OSAM-1 spacecraft (bottom) docking with the Landsat 7 satellite (top) in orbit.


NASA has pulled the plug on a project that cost $1.5 billion and will likely cost nearly $1 billion to reach the launch pad, canceling an over-budget, unplanned mission to demonstrate robotic satellite servicing technology in orbit.

The On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing 1 mission, known as OSAM-1, would deal with and refuel the aging Landsat satellite in orbit, while also demonstrating how the robotic arm could build an antenna in space. The spacecraft for the OSAM-1 mission is partially built, but NASA announced Friday that officials have decided to cancel the project “after an in-depth, independent design review.”

The space agency cited “ongoing technical, cost and schedule challenges” for the decision to cancel OSAM-1.

Mission creep

Since NASA officially launched the project in 2016, the cost of the mission has increased. The initial scope of the mission was just a refueling demonstration, but in 2020, officials became involved with the goal of in-orbit assembly. This involved adding a complex piece of equipment called the Space Infrastructure Flexible Robot (Spider), which is essentially a 16-foot-long (5-meter) robotic arm to assemble seven structural elements into a single Ka-band communications antenna.

The addition of SPIDER meant the mission would launch with three robotic arms, including two attachments needed to hold onto the Landsat 7 satellite in orbit for a refueling demonstration. With this change in scope, the mission name changed from Restore-L to OSAM-1.

A Last year’s report by NASA’s inspector general noted the mission’s delays and cost overruns. Since 2016, the space agency has asked Congress for $808 million for Restore-L and OSAM-1. Lawmakers responded by giving NASA nearly $1.5 billion to fund the mission’s development, more than twice what NASA had requested.

Restore-L and later OSAM-1 have always received support from Congress. The mission was managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) was a key supporter of Goddard’s decommissioning of NASA missions, including the James Webb Space Telescope. When Congress began funding Restore-L in late 2015, he was the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

At one time, NASA predicted that the Restore-L mission would cost between $626 million and $753 million and could be ready for launch in the second half of 2020. This did not happen, and the mission continued to suffer delays and cost overruns. The most recent public schedule for OSAM-1 indicated a 2026 launch date.

After redesigning the Restore-L mission to become OSAM-1 in 2020, NASA has officially budgeted for the renamed mission. At the time, NASA said it would cost $1.78 billion to design, build, launch and operate. According to NASA spokesman Jimi Russell, an independent NASA review board established last year to study the OSAM-1 mission estimated the total project would cost $2.35 billion.

The realities of the satellite service market have also changed since 2016. There are several companies working on commercial satellite servicing technologies, and the satellite industry has moved away from refueling off-the-shelf spacecraft, as demonstrated by OSAM-1’s Landsat 7 Earth imagery. satellite.

Instead, companies are focusing more on extending satellite life in other ways. Northrop Grumman has developed a Mission Extender Vehicle that can dock and maneuver to a satellite without disconnecting the customer spacecraft for refueling. Other companies are looking at satellites designed with refueling ports from the start. The U.S. military wants to put fuel depots and tankers in orbit to regularly service its satellites, allowing them to constantly maneuver and burn fuel without worrying about running out of fuel.