NASA Ends $2 Billion Satellite Refueling Project After Contractor Accused of ‘Poor Performance’

Artist’s depiction of OSAM-1 docking with a satellite.Image: NASA

Artist’s depiction of OSAM-1 docking with a satellite. Image: NASA

By George Dvorsky,
Published by Gizmodo, 4 March 2024

The complex project was beset by technical difficulties, cost overruns, and a lackluster performance from the main contractor, Maxar.

An ambitious NASA project designed to test satellite refueling in space, known as OSAM-1, has been discontinued after significant technical, cost, and scheduling difficulties. The cancellation comes in the wake of an October 2023 report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General that cited “poor performance” by Maxar, the primary contractor for the project.

NASA announced the cancellation of the On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1) project on Friday March 1. The project aimed to refuel the aging Landsat-7 Earth observation satellite and demonstrate in-space manufacturing technology. It faced “continued technical, cost, and schedule challenges,” leading to its discontinuation. NASA’s decision, revealed in a news release, followed an “in-depth, independent project review.”

A key reason for the cancellation, NASA explained, is the emerging industry trend of designing satellites with built-in capabilities for refueling. OSAM-1 planned to use an orbiting spacecraft with robotic arms to forcibly access the fuel tanks of satellites not originally designed for refueling (this animated video of the concept will give you a good idea of the complexities involved). Such an approach is becoming less relevant as the industry shifts to building satellites with refueling capabilities in mind.

The project’s termination also stems from the “lack of a committed partner,” as NASA put it, presumably referring to Maxar, a key contractor for OSAM-1. A report from NASA’s inspector general in October highlighted Maxar’s “poor performance,” citing the company’s underestimation of the project’s scope and complexity, a lack of full understanding of NASA’s technical requirements, and deficiencies in necessary expertise. The company was already taking a financial loss on its OSAM-1 involvement. The nature of Maxar’s fixed-price contract with NASA, which didn’t “provide NASA adequate flexibility to incentivize Maxar to improve its performance,” contributed to staffing challenges and project delays, according to the OIG.

Maxar Intelligence and Maxar Space Systems are two separate divisions of Maxar Technologies. Maxar Intelligence, through its satellite fleet, focuses on Earth intelligence and geospatial analytics, while Maxar Space Systems designs and manufactures spacecraft and space hardware.

See: Original Article