Axiom buys robot arm grapple points from the Canadian company MDA

Capitalism in space: For the first time, a private space station company, Axiom, has purchased 32 space station robot arm grapple points, or interfaces, from the Canadian company MDA that builds the robot arms on ISS for NASA.

The MDA interfaces aboard Axiom’s space station will also include those that allow the existing Canadarm2 on the International Space Station (ISS) to build and assemble the new Axiom Station. Once that stage is complete, MDA’s Canadarm3 interfaces will act as permanent robotic system fixture points on the outside of Axiom Station, forming the foundation for future robotic arm integration and utilization once it separates from the ISS and operates independently.

This deal means that eventually Axiom is going to purchase its own MDA-built robot arm.

MDA becomes Maxar

Capitalism in space: The space company MDA has acquired DigitalGlobe and reorganized itself under the new name Maxar Technologies.

The acquisition and name change appears to be part of a strategy to make this long time Canadian company an international company able to do U.S. military missions.

MDA undertook a major corporate reorganization in May 2016 as part of its “U.S. Access Plan” strategy, including the appointment of Mr. Lance and the formation of SSL MDA Holdings, Inc., with its headquarters in San Francisco, which manages and controls all of the Company’s operations across Canada, the U.S. and internationally. This process was completed under the guidance and approval of the U.S. Department of Defense, whereby SSL MDA Holdings operates under a Security Control Agreement. This structure allows the Company to pursue and execute U.S. government programs that require security clearances.

Maxar’s SSL division is the one building a satellite servicing mission for DARPA, and has been sued (unsuccessfully) by Orbital ATK for getting favorable treatment by the government, including federal monies, even though it is a foreign company. This reorganization apparently is aimed at eliminating Maxar’s foreign status in the U.S.

The name change also succeeds in making the company more marketable. MDA, which stands for MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd, always sounded like an accountant firm. Maxar is much better.

New company formed to service satellites in-orbit

Capitalism in space: MDA and SSL Loral today announced the formation of a new company, Space Infrastructure Services (SIS), that will service satellites already in orbit.

This partnership is based on the engineering being developed by SSL Loral under a DARPA research project.

The most important part of the announcement however is that SIS has also signed up its first customer.

The company also announced that SES, a world leading satellite-enabled solutions provider, with more than 50 GEO satellites and 12 MEO satellites on orbit, has entered into an agreement for an initial life extension mission with options for further missions. Under this agreement, SES will be the first commercial customer to benefit from satellite refueling that can be called up as needed with minimal disruption to spacecraft operation.

As it did with SpaceX, SES is aggressively supporting this new technology that will revolutionize space operations. Here the technology will allow them to repair their satellites, thus saving them the cost of replacing them with new satellites.

SpaceX has signed a contract with MDA to launch all three of Canada’s next generation Radarsat satellites.

The competition heats up: SpaceX has signed a contract with MDA to launch all three of Canada’s next generation Radarsat satellites.

MDA’s willingness to go with SpaceX prior to the September 5 launch of its Cassiope satellite on the Falcon 9 illustrates again the confidence they have in SpaceX. At the same time, this contract is for launches expected to occur around 2018, which is a long way away. Much can happen till then, including the possibility that SpaceX will go bust.

In other words, right now it is the successful launch of Falcon 9 that is of significance, not these new contracts. Only if those launches succeed will these contracts then become really significant.

Lack of U.S. government interest in commercial refueling mission causes problems

A lack of U.S. government interest in a privately designed satellite refueling technology has caused the company to pull back its plans.

MDA had signed a contract with the communications satellite company Intelsat to refuel some of its orbiting satellites, but needed additional customers to make a go of it. It had hoped the U.S. Defense Department would show interest, but they have not.

This is exactly where the government should be investing its capital, and that it is not tells us a lot about the real lack of sincerity behind the Obama administration’s claims that it wants to encourage private space. I also suspect that the turf war with satellite companies and defense contractors helped discourage Defense Department interest.