19th July 2018
Article published by Space News – Link to original article
Maxar Technologies’ recently acquired Neptec robotic technology company was selected to supply sensors for the Space Drone servicing vehicle developed by Effective Space.
FARNBOROUGH, England — With hundreds of satellites projected to launch from future UK spaceports and elsewhere in Europe in the coming years, an industry race is underway to develop space robots that will fix and maintain constellations in orbit.
Maxar Technologies has made inroads in satellite servicing with Pentagon and NASA contracts in recent years. It now also wants to become a player in the logistics support of commercial satellites in the burgeoning European market.
The company announced on Wednesday that its recently acquired Neptec robotic technology company was selected to supply sensors for the “Space Drone,” a servicing vehicle developed by Effective Space, based in the UK.
The Space Drone will use Neptec’s light detection and ranging (lidar) sensors and infrared cameras to approach and dock with orbiting satellites in geostationary earth orbit. Effective Space said it plans to launch two vehicles into orbit in 2020 as part of a $100 million contract with an undisclosed regional satellite operator. Maxar’s MDA division will work on the project from its recently expanded UK operation.
Lidar and infrared sensors will be used to generate a 3D picture of the target spacecraft. After rendezvous, the Space Drone docks with the host satellite and functions as an external “jetpack,” providing attitude and orbit control for the combined vehicle, so the satellite can continue to operate.
Neptec developed the sensors with funding from the UK Space Agency. The space lidar, originally designed for a lunar lander, will be used for rendezvous and docking in orbit, and for the de-orbiting of space debris. Lidar relies on reflected pulses of light from a laser to build a 3D map of a target.
Maxar this week also announced a $1.3 million deal with the UK Space Agency to develop space robotics technology in the United Kingdom. This puts MDA in a position to lead a European consortium to bid on the first phase of the European Space Agency’s space servicing vehicle robotics program.
“Space robotics are a key enabler for the new space economy, powering applications such as servicing, repairing, refueling and de-orbiting of satellites and building large structures in space,” Maxar said in a news release.
These emerging opportunities in the UK and Europe explain why Maxar moved to acquire the Neptec Design Group for $32 million. Neptec’s workforce of about 100 employees is based in Ottawa, Canada, and Harwell, United Kingdom.
At the Farnborough Airshow, Effective Space UK managing director Daniel Campbell briefed potential customers and journalists on the features of the Space Drone. At about 400kg, it’s about the size of a washing machine,
Campbell said in-orbit servicing, like launch, can help drive economic growth for the United Kingdom.
The company is positioning the Space Drone to compete against the likes of Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle for satellite servicing work, debris removal, in-space explorations, mining and manufacturing in space. Initially it will focus on life-extension services of aging GEO satellites, which is considered the most lucrative portion of the market. The Space Drone will be adapted at a later time to support constellations in middle and low earth orbits.
Effective Space was founded in 2013 by Arie Halsband, general manager of the space division of Israel Aerospace Industries. The company decided to become permanently based in the United Kingdom for its favorable business climate and policies aimed at boosting the space economy.
Link to Original Article
Original article accessed 07/18/2017
Brampton, ON – MDA, a Maxar Technologies company (formerly MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.), (NYSE: MAXR; TSX: MAXR), announced today it has acquired Neptec Design Group Ltd. (Neptec), the leading electro-optical and electro-mechanical systems and high-performance intelligent Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) company for CA$42 million, comprised of approximately CA$8 million in cash and the balance in Maxar common shares. With Neptec, MDA will deliver end-to-end robotic systems and an expanded set of solutions, positioning the company to capture growth in U.S., Canadian and global space exploration markets and accelerate advancement into new and expanding space segments. The transaction is accretive to Maxar’s operating earnings per share beginning in 2019, solidifies MDA’s leadership in space robotics innovation, and reinforces Maxar’s industry-leading space capabilities.
Neptec’s approximately 100 employees in Ottawa, Canada, and Harwell, U.K., will join MDA’s workforce of approximately 1,900 across Canada. The new Sensor business will combine with the newly created MDA Commercial division under the MDA brand.
“Today’s announcement provides a tremendous opportunity to advance and grow MDA and Neptec internationally, develop powerful new technologies and drive future economies,” said Mike Greenley, group president of MDA. “The Neptec team is well-established in the industry, and this investment represents an important strategic opportunity to offer broader solutions for the growing space exploration market.”
“As a global leader in space technology,” Greenley continued, “I am excited to solidify our position as the provider of the most valuable space exploration products in the world by adding Neptec’s world-class sensor and vision systems and robust space robotic capabilities to our industry-leading space portfolio.”
MDA’s suite of space robotics and exploration capabilities combine with Neptec’s space sensors and exploration robotics to provide commercial and government customers worldwide with innovative, three-dimensional space systems that augment the functionality of robotic systems, including such tasks as capturing space vehicles and berthing them to structures. Neptec also operates LIDAR systems, which deliver reliable guidance and navigation sensors for space vehicles.
“In our nearly 30-year history, Neptec has contributed critical systems to some of the most demanding space exploration missions, and we’ve built a reputation for making things work in challenging environments,” said Paul Nephin, Neptec CEO. “Combining our capabilities with MDA creates a tremendous opportunity to win new business and continue to expand our footprint in Canada, the United Kingdom and globally.”
Neptec’s capabilities are aligned with growth areas fueling the new space economy including on-orbit servicing, space mining, space manufacturing and the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (Gateway), a planned lunar-orbit space station planned for the 2020’s. The next-generation of Canadarm will provide critical Gateway operations, including assembly of the Gateway itself and its ongoing maintenance, capture of visiting spacecraft and execution of scientific experiments and operations conducted in the lunar vicinity. Robotics needed for this project will incorporate significantly more autonomous decision-making capabilities using artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art robotics and software.
Fast, secure communications will also be critical for deep space missions. Neptec has been working to further quantum computing in the area of space communications, and has participated in a project that developed an Acquisition, Pointing and Tracking fine pointing system for future satellite payloads to solve the long-standing problem of securely transporting information between distant locations.
View MDA’s full Press release
Neptec Design Group was featured in the Summer 2018 edition of the Kanata Networker. Exploring several of our new contracts, the Networker discusses how new camera and sensor technologies being developed by Neptec will increase automation, accuracy and security aboard future space missions.
Image credit NASA
On Monday, May 21 2018 an Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with a Cygnus spacecraft on board launched at 4:44 am from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This was Orbital ATK’s ninth (OA-9) cargo mission under the NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract . The spacecraft carried approximately 7,400 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
Installed on Cygnus were two of Neptec’s TriDAR rendezvous and docking laser systems. TriDAR provides automated, real-time visual guidance for navigation, rendezvous and docking procedures. Using a laser-based 3D sensor TriDAR collects 3D data of its target that is then compared by software to the known shape of the target spacecraft in order to calculate relative range, rates and 6 degrees of freedom relative position between the spacecraft and the ISS. This information is used by the vehicles automated systems to allow the Cygnus Spacecraft to approach the station and position itself for capture by the station’s robotic arm. Cygnus successfully completed its rendezvous and docking procedures early in the morning on Thursday, May 24, 2018 with final installation to the International Space Station occurring at 8:13 am.
TriDAR has flown a number of operational resupply missions to the International Space Station as a manifest item on Orbital ATK’s cargo resupply spacecraft. The units installed on Cygnus for the OA-9 mission were the last two of the original 13 TriDAR systems developed for Orbital ATK. Neptec is currently under contract to provide additional TriDAR units for the next program phase (CRS2); these units will feature a new and updated design.
On Sunday, November 12 2017 Orbital ATK successfully launched its Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus spacecraft from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. The launch marked Orbital ATK’s eighth resupply mission (OA-8) to the International Space Station (ISS). For the OA-8 mission, Cygnus was loaded with approximately 7,400 pounds of cargo including supplies and provisions for the space station crew, space station hardware, computer equipment and science experiments for the ISS.
The Cygnus rendezvous was supported by two of Neptec’s TriDAR rendezvous and docking laser systems. The TriDAR provides real-time 6 degrees of freedom data for guidance during rendezvous and docking procedures. The TriDAR systems supported the final 1000m (1km) to ~10 meter portion of the flight.
Cygnus arrived at the International Space Station and was captured by Astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Randy Bresnik using the Canadarm2 at 5:04 AM on Tuesday, November 14. Cygnus is expected to remain at the International Space Station until early December when it will depart with more than 4,000 pounds of disposable cargo.
Visit NASA’s website for more information about this mission.