Friday, December 16, 2016

MDA says No Sale of Canadarm Technology to the US Government in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or "Any Other" Project

          By Chuck Black

A spokesperson for Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) has stated unequivocally that no Canadarm derived technology is included as part of the recently awarded $127Mln USD ($167Mln CDN) contract to supply the chassis, hardware and various other services for the NASA Restore-L space robotic servicing mission, or as part of "any other" project awarded to MDA.

The April 11th, 2016 US Naval Research Laboratory post, "NRL Engineers to Lead Payload Development for Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites," referenced by Wendy Keyer to support her statement that "DARPA’s RSGS program utilizes a robotic payload built by the Naval Research Labs" and not MDA. She goes on to state that, "there has been no “sale of Canadarm technology to the US government” in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or any other project." However, as outlined in the November 20th, 2013 MDA press release, "MDA awarded further work in satellite servicing demonstration for US Government," MDA has received at least one contract, which included "additional robotics work" under the DARPA Phoenix satellite servicing program which could possibly include CanadArm derived technology. This blog has requested clarification from Ms. Keyser and will update this post as additional information becomes available. Graphic c/o NRL

The Restore-L contract, as described in the December 12th, 2016 post, "Will the New Space Systems Loral $127Mln NASA Space Robotic Servicing Contract Help Canada?," was awarded by NASA earlier in the month to Space Systems Loral (SSL) a subsidiary of SSL MDA Holdings, a Delaware incorporated company, which also owns MDA.

In response to the December 12th article, MDA communications manager Wendy Keyzer, sent the following e-mail to the Commercial Space blog and requested that it be posted. As outlined in her e-mail:
MDA would like to submit the following corrections to this article: 
  • The NASA contract to SSL is for a spacecraft bus – there is no robotics-related work scope in the contract 
  • The SSL proposal utilizes SSL’s heritage 1300 bus. There is absolutely no ‘technology derived from the iconic Canadian developed Canadarm’ involved in providing the heritage 1300 spacecraft bus for this NASA mission 
  • The robotics payload for the RESTORE-L mission is being built by NASA’s Goddard facility. None of MDA’s Canadian robotics technology is involved in the RESTORE-L payload. 
  • MDA’s 2011 SIS project did not ‘morph into’ RESTORE-L or any other US Government program: RESTORE-L is a NASA program to re-fuel NASA’s Landsat-7 spacecraft and is developed by NASA’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division which continues NASA’s satellite servicing heritage from the 1990s on (See https://sspd.gsfc.nasa.gov/about.html).
What is DARPA RSGS? As outlined in this March 28th, 2016 via Satellite post "DARPA Seeking Private Partners for In-Orbit Servicing Program," the program is "a public-private partnership," using DARPA developed tools "to create a commercially owned and operated Robotic Servicing Vehicle (RSV)." DARPA would contribute "the robotics technology, such as the previously developed Front End Robotic Enabling Near-Term Demonstration (FREND) robotic arm, expertise, and a government-provided launch." The commercial partner would contribute "the satellite to carry the robotic payload, integration of the payload, and the mission operations center and staff." Screenshot c/o via Satellite.
  • There has been no “sale of Canadarm technology to the US government” in NASA RESTORE-L, DARPA RSGS or any other project.
  • SSL MDA Holdings Inc., which is based in San Francisco, California, is a 100% subsidiary of the Canadian public company, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. 
  • SSL MDA Holdings Inc. is simply incorporated in Delaware. There are no operations or employees in Delaware.
As announced by MDA in the October 3rd, 2016 press release, "MDA announces board and senior executive appointments to enable US Access Plan implementation," the peculiar SSL MDA corporate structure was designed specifically to implement MDA's "previously announced U.S. Access Plan strategy."

This blog has requested clarification from Ms. Keyser and others on a number of the items above and will update this post as new information becomes available.
Editors Note: On December 19th 2016, Ms. Keyser sent an e-mail to this blog, stating only that, "I do not have further clarifications to my earlier clarifications."
She may not, but several of her statements seem questionable based on the publicly available evidence. Some of that evidence is detailed above.
Given that, we're not at all sure Keyser is doing a service to the SSL MDA Canadian business unit by letting her statements stand. This blog will continue trying to give MDA and others an opportunity for fair comment. 
No doubt, there will be more on this story in 2017.
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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