Ball Aerospace to build NEXTSat spacecraft for U.S. defense program

Experts at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. recently announced that they are building the NEXTSat spacecraft for the U.S. Department of Defense's Orbital Express Advanced Technology demonstration program.

by John McHale

BOULDER, Col. — Experts at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. recently announced that they are building the NEXTSat spacecraft for the U.S. Department of Defense's Orbital Express Advanced Technology demonstration program.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies is a member of prime contractor Boeing's team, which was selected for Phase II of the program, Ball Aerospace officials say. The mission is funded through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., company officials say.

"A successful Orbital Express demonstration will show how on-orbit servicing can reduce space program costs through spacecraft life extension," says Robert Vacek, director of Ball Aerospace's Integrated Defense Systems. "This could have a significant positive impact on future space systems, and we are very pleased to be involved in such an effort."

"By developing Orbital Express we will have a tremendous capability to improve the performance, maneuverability, and potential upgrade of both military and commercial satellites," says Ron Prosser, vice president of Advanced Space and Communications for Phantom Works. "This leads to significant opportunities to repair satellites, or move stranded satellites to their correct orbits, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in replacement costs."

The Orbital Express Advanced Technology Demonstration Program is intended to develop and demonstrate autonomous techniques for on-orbit refueling and reconfiguration of satellites, Ball Aerospace officials say. During Phase II, the team will perform an on-orbit servicing demonstration using two satellites; the unmanned service vehicle known as the Autonomous Space Transfer and Robotic Orbiter (ASTRO), and the serviceable satellite referred to as the Next Generation Satellite (NEXTSat). As part of this effort, the team will also develop industry standard servicing interfaces and protocols that can be used by future spacecraft developers, company officials say.

Ball Aerospace will provide the NEXTSat spacecraft, as well as various components for the Boeing-built ASTRO spacecraft, mission operation support and ground station support, Ball Aerospace officials say. The NEXTSat spacecraft design has benefited from Ball's ongoing investments in small spacecraft technologies. The Orbital Express demonstration satellites are scheduled to launch in 2006, company officials say.

In an additional development, NASA's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) is partnering with DARPA in the Orbital Express demonstration in order to reduce technical risks associated with developing autonomous rendezvous capabilities, Boeing officials say.

The Boeing Orbital Express Team includes: Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., TRW Space and Technology, McDonald Dettwiler Robotics, Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., and Starsys Research Corp.

More in Home