Last month, it became known that a group of Republican congressmen had issued a letter to DARPA, demanding that they halt any construction of their satellite servicing robots. Why? Because, according to them, DARPA was going against National Space Policy guidelines by discouraging similar work from the private sector – in particular, work by Orbital ATK.
When that letter was issued, DARPA seemingly responded with a big fat no. Believing there to be no other choice, Orbital ATK has now responded back by pressing a lawsuit against the governmental agency. Apparently, not only did DARPA respond with a no to the congressmen’s letter, but had subsequently noted plans on giving one of Orbital’s rivals a contract to build satellite-repairing robots as well.
Orbital’s rival: rocket manufacturer Space Systems Loral (SSL)! Needless to say, one can definitely understand why Orbital would be upset and would want to sue DARPA. Not only did they allegedly go against National Space Policy guidelines, but are now giving Orbital the middle finger by helping out one of their rivals. Could this be the start of our first ever space war?
Normally friendly competition serves as a huge benefit for all those that are involved. It pushes companies to work at their best and thus benefits consumers by receiving a product earlier than expected. With this particular case, however, friendly competition has now turned into a legal battle over space robots. Neither DARPA nor Orbital ATK has any plans of backing down, which may or may not hurt them in the long run.
Hopefully, within five to ten years, we’ll see the launch of satellite-repairing robots. It wouldn’t matter which company got there first, so long the robots do the job effectively and with cost-efficiency. But if this rivalry continues getting anymore heated – especially with the government involved – we could very well see a delay in the production of these robots.
“In less than a year after announcing its first customer contract, Orbital ATK has made significant progress in developing its new satellite life extension service. The innovative technology, a first in the industry, gives satellite operators the capability to extend the life of a healthy satellite. Orbital ATK remains on track to introduce its in-orbit satellite servicing system with the Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1).”
– Orbital ATK
Depending upon how this whole lawsuit concludes, thirty to fifty years from now, we could be living on both the Moon and Mars. Having robots in space to repair satellites are crucial developments to ensure permanent settlements of nearby planetary bodies. Which is likely the reason why this whole competition became so heated in the first place. The stakes are high and the reward is even higher.
Every major space agency, from the public sector to the private sector, have their eyes on the red planet. Some of them even wish to target the Moon as well, such as Orbital ATK. Though, to ensure these settlements don’t resort to any dystopian sci-fi scenario by issuing planetary war, conflicts such as these must be brought to an end peacefully. It all starts with a legal proceeding. One should hope that it ends with a legal proceeding as well. The future depends upon it!