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In-Space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM) Will Advance a New Paradigm in Space Operations

By: Astroscale U.S.
Posted August 12th, 2022 Posted in Blog

Last year, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) formed U.S. government inter-agency working groups to bring together a range of government stakeholders, including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, State, and Transportation, the National Security Council, the National Space Council, and the Office of Management and Budget. These working groups were tasked with coordinating the U.S. science and technology policy, strategy, and federal research and development (R&D) to address two things: the growing orbital debris crisis and the opportunity posed by emerging in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM) capabilities.

Through the creation of technologies, advancement of business cases, and contributions to inform sustainable space, science, and technology policy, Astroscale is shifting the course of humanity’s endeavors in space away from the pollutive status quo towards a ‘servicing culture’ and broader paradigm of stewardship through space environment management.

In November, we submitted a public comment to the OSTP on the first item — our Call to Action laying out how the U.S. can lead the world in development next-generation innovation to remediate Earth’s orbit of dangerous space debris and transform the paradigm of space operations to secure a sustainable space economy.

Five months later, OSTP released its ISAM National Strategy document outlining the U.S. government’s strategic goals and vision for its national approach to advance ISAM capabilities and activities across industry, government, and academia. These goals address challenges currently impeding the development of the ISAM industry—and OSTP again asked industry for its perspective as they began to pull together a more detailed implementation plans to move past these challenges to fulfill its goals.

Our mission — to secure the safe and sustainable development of space for the benefit of future generations — guides everything we do. So, naturally, we stepped up to the plate again. In June, Astroscale U.S. submitted our comment into the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)’s Request for Comment.

ISAM capabilities advance and enable increasingly ambitious human endeavors in space. From Earth orbit to cislunar and interplanetary missions, the applications of ISAM technologies and practices support the development of a vibrant space ecosystem. The constraints of contemporary methodologies—for example, the need for spacecraft to carry reserve fuel, agonize over the financial implications of each fuel expenditure, retain redundant components, integrate onto a single launch vehicle—are temporary limitations that ISAM services will discharge as they grow more efficient, routine, and cost-effective.

As the demand for space services, data, and structures that can support scientific objectives continues to grow, the application of ISAM technologies stand to revolutionize space operations across civil, national security, and commercial space sectors. Coupled with its implementation of the Orbital Debris Research and Development (R&D) Plan, the U.S. government’s implementation of the Strategy will generate cross-cutting advancements to space operations and architectures, bolstering their efficiency, utility, flexibility, and value across the space enterprise.

Enhanced interagency coordination to clarify regulatory and procurement authorities, harmonize funding and architecture planning, and streamline regulatory oversight and continuing supervision over commercial ISAM capabilities are necessary to bolster the U.S. commercial ISAM industry’s global competitiveness. This clarity and synchronization of interagency priorities and needs will ensure that the sustained investments it undertakes in R&D for ISAM capabilities across civil and defense space architectures will benefit stakeholders across the entire U.S. space industrial base.

Finally, collaboration to implement the Strategy with likeminded allies, international partners, industry consortia and standards organizations, and other global stakeholders is critical to the full execution of U.S. strategic space policy priorities.

In-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing capabilities offer tools to preserve and enhance U.S. global leadership in furthering the responsible, peaceful, and sustainable use of outer space. As they reach maturity, they will redefine the art of the possible and render contemporary constraints on mission and system design, reliability, and other factors that reduce mission success in space operations obsolete. Astroscale welcomed this opportunity to provide our suggestions for how the United States government can aid in the realization of this future. We’re just scratching the surface of what we have to say.

Read our full comment here.