Servicing covers a wide range of activities spanning fixing, improving, and reviving satellites and refers to any work to refuel, repair, replace or augment an existing asset in space. Servicing allows for satellite life-extension and upgradability as technology evolves on Earth.
The most mature and robust of the ISAM capabilities, servicing is the conduit through which NASA will end the era of one-and-done spacecraft, which dictates satellites are designed to live their lives alone.
Assembly is the practice of gathering two or more parts together in space into a single, functional aggregate structure. A suite of assembly capabilities allows us to launch individual parts to space separately and bring them together, thereby overcoming the constraints of rocket fairing volume limitations.
The ability to launch individual components of a large structure and robotically assemble them in space makes various seemingly impossible concepts possible. This capability allows for assembly of habitats in places further away than low-Earth orbit, and opens up the door for constructing large telescopes and other platforms that would otherwise be impossible.
Manufacturing is the fabrication of components in space as the need arises. This capability allows for greater adaptability in dealing with unforeseen challenges and has the potential to eliminate the need to launch as many components (including contingency components) upfront. It also allows for the production of unprecedented monolithic structures, such as jointless thirty-meter truss beams. On-orbit coating applications and nano-manufacturing allows for surface coatings to be applied or renewed to recover optical and thermal properties.
Starshades are large, deployable structures that can help in the search for life on planets outside our Solar System. Earth-like planets orbiting a star are about 10 billion times fainter than their star, making them difficult to see. Starshades flown between a space telescope and a star could block out a star's light to reveal any planets for direct imaging. Large quantities of fuel are required for continuous thrust to maintain the starshade's proper position, so the ability to refuel is a critical aspect of concept feasibility.
On-orbit Assembly, and Manufacturing can be used to contruct truss structures in space, thereby enabling persistent orbital platforms which can be repeatedly reconfigured and renewed. Persistent platforms can efficiently host short-term technology demonstration payloads launched without dedicated spacecraft. The payloads rely on the platform for all engineering resources, including removal and disposal at the end of the demonstration, freeing up the position for the next payload.
Persistent platforms can also provide long-term hosting of complementary instrument suites that provide synergistic science from overlapping fields of view. Furthermore, unmanned persistent platforms can provide considerably better pointing knowledge and stability than the international space station (ISS), without manned safety requirements and obstructions. A robotically equipped persistent platform creates a flexible environment for adapting and reconfiguring payloads, and continuously expanding On-orbit resources.
The basic formula for sustainable space exploration is: consumable replenishment and component repair (servicing), construction of large and precise structures (assembly), and creation of components from feedstock or in-situ resources (manufacturing) to break the dependence on earth supply chain logistics.
ISAM capabilities are critical to developing sustainable space architectures that allow spacecraft to live longer and journey farther, as well enabling a sustained human presence in space. Robotic ISAM technologies facilitate the replenishment of supplies that run out from spacecraft fuel, to coolant, to oxygen. They can help in ensuring the longevity and operability of spacecraft and life support systems with unplanned repair and planned maintenance.
The ISAM State of Play document is a survey of past, present, and near future ISAM capabilities across industry and government agencies. It was produced to promote awareness of the breadth of ISAM investments and developments within the aerospace community, with the hope of fostering dialog, partnerships, and innovation. The ISAM State of Play can inform architecture studies, mission formulation, and pathfinding options to establish an economic ISAM ecosystem.
The 2022 ISAM State of Play is the second release of the document and provides significant updates, including the addition of 35 new ISAM technologies. Best efforts are made to incorporate all pertinent ISAM technologies. Comments, corrections, or additions are encouraged to ensure the current state-of-the-art is properly captured. Any recommendations will be assessed and incorporated into future editions of the ISAM State of Play, which are scheduled to be released on a yearly cadence. Feedback for the ISAM State of Play can be provided to the authors through email.
NASA's Technology Transfer Program ensures that innovations developed for exploration and discovery are broadly available to the public, maximizing the benefit to the Nation. Whether you're looking to start a new company, enhance an existing product, or create a new product line, you can gain a competitive edge in the marketplace by putting NASA technology to work for you.
The ISAM Technology Catalog provides domestic companies with insight and access to technology NASA has developed in support of spaceflight missions, technology demonstration, or in pursuit of concept development. By transferring technology as it is developed rather than only after it has been demonstrated in orbit, NASA expedites new capabilities into the commercial market and promotes U.S. global leadership in ISAM capability. Organizations interested in commercializing ISAM technologies are invited to contact the points of contact listed in the catalog to discuss how they can be adapted for other spaceflight and surface applications.
The full version of the ISAM Technology Catalog is available to domestic companies by contacting Patty Manalansan at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, which controls the release of the catalog. An NDA is required as the catalog contains export controlled technical data.
Beginning in 2016, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate has hosted yearly opportunities for industry, academia, and other government agencies to share critical developments in ISAM. These events seek to spark collaboration between domestic groups dedicated to ISAM technologies and develop a shared vision for the future of ISAM services.
Information about recent ISAM workshops may be found below, followed by a calendar of other relevant events. Information about future workshops will be posted here when available.
Dr. Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Assistant Director for Space Policy, White House OSTP, speaks at the 2022 ISAM Workshop. (Credit: NASA/Mike Guinto)
October 17-18, 2022
Hosted by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
The seventh annual ISAM workshop followed the release of a national ISAM strategy by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The event outlined a shared vision for ISAM capabilities, featuring the development missions, technologies, and facilities propelling the U.S. into the future. The hybrid event featured Goddard facility tours and a technical poster session in addition to the workshop agenda.
Marshall Space Flight Center Associate Director Larry Leopard welcomes participants to the 2021 ISAM Workshop. (Credit: NASA)
October 27-28, 2021
Hosted by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
The sixth annual ISAM workshop featured information about current ISAM missions, future opportunities, and technologies available for licensing. Speakers included representatives from companies like Northrup Grumman, Maxar Technologies, Tethers Unlimited, and Redwire; from academic institutions like University of Alabama, Virginia Tech, and Johns Hopkins University; and from NASA and the Department of Defense.
September 22-23, 2020
Hosted by NASA’s Langley Research Center
The fifth annual ISAM workshop promoted collaborations between government and industry in pursuit of shared exploration objectives. Over 300 participants joined the discussion, submitting over 200 questions to speakers and panelists. This event was held entirely virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.