With so many things cluttering up geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the Earth, one has to wonder: How is all that being serviced? Repaired? How is the payload replaced?

The short answer—it's not. Satellites in GEO have to be packed with all the fuel and backup systems they will need, since they have no prospect of assistance once in GEO.

An ambitious DARPA project is planning to change all that, with the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program. Under the program, a DARPA-developed modular toolkit—including hardware and software—would be joined to a privately developed spacecraft to create a commercially owned and operated robotic servicing vehicle (RSV) that could make house calls in space.

But that's not all. DARPA seeks to engage a commercial partner with a strategic interest in this new capability, and an interest in providing services to the Defense Department (DoD). The end goal is a commercial enterprise that would make robotic servicing available to both military and commercial GEO satellites on a fee-for-service basis.

To facilitate this public-private partnership, DARPA will hold a Program Solicitation and a Proposers Day, whose dates will appear on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

Artist's concept of the proposed robotic servicing vehicle (RSV). Credit: DARPA

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