Fixing Space with ISAM
A few weeks back, the White House released a 10-page PDF titled “In-Space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing National Strategy”. Or, more commonly, ISAM.
A 10-page PDF might not seem like a big deal, but the ISAM strategy lays the groundwork for space operations that are more efficient, more effective and more capable than ever before. And for us and the industry we support, that’s a very big deal.
What Activities Does ISAM Cover?
From an activities standpoint, ISAM covers three major areas that are right in the name: Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing.
Servicing includes tasks like inspection, life extension, and repairs or upgrades of satellites and other spacecraft after they’ve launched.
Assembly refers to launching individual pre-made components into space and then putting them together once they’re there.
Manufacturing refers to turning raw materials into components, products or infrastructure in space.
In very broad terms, ISAM is a strategy that covers “space logistics.”
This Sounds a Lot Like OSAM, Right?
Yes. Very much like OSAM.
The critical difference is that OSAM’s “On-Orbit” would exclude operations on the lunar surface, while “In-Space” would include them.
The ISAM strategy is specifically designed to support both on-orbit, and lunar operations that might support activities like NASA’s Artemis program.
Why Do We Need ISAM?
In the words of the original doc, “ISAM capabilities can promote a sustainable space environment, improve the scientific output of in-space spacecraft and instruments, and create robust, sustainable, and enduring in-space infrastructure”
Historically, the model of in-space operations has been (very broadly) “Launch it, let it do its thing, then forget about it.”
That was probably a fine model for the early days of space exploration and operations. But now, as we do more than ever before in space, that’s a very expensive model that creates challenges like, for example, space debris that could impact future missions.
The ISAM strategy is designed to help space operations be more cost-effective, capable and sustainable.
What Challenges Does ISAM Solve?
The ISAM strategy lays out three key challenges it’s designed to solve.
Even in the U.S., in-space operations are being pursued by a whole host of separate organizations. Different government agencies (19 of them contributed to the ISAM strategy). Private companies. Research institutions. And that’s just in this country.
The ISAM strategy aims to improve coordination between all these organizations, both domestically and internationally.
Demonstrate Demand for Private Companies
Over the past couple decades, the U.S. Government has increasingly relied on private companies for space exploration and operations. ISAM is another step in this direction.
Part of ISAM’s purpose is to tell companies like Motiv, “here are the types of solutions we need, and we’re willing to invest in them.”
What happens when a satellite manufactured by the Sierra Nevada Corporation tries to dock onto one made by Lockheed Martin? Will they be able to communicate with each other? Interact with each other?
Right now, the answer is “maybe, but also, maybe not.”
The ISAM strategy seeks to improve this situation, by developing and formalizing standards based on consensus within the academic and commercial space communities.
What are ISAM’s Core Goals?
There are six core ISAM goals, and an additional six sub-goals. We’ll be brief here, but you can read the whole thing in the original document.
- Advance ISAM Research and Development
This is a relatively new field, and ISAM recognizes there’s a lot of work to be done to establish a more mature ISAM ecosystem.
- Coordinate an R&D portfolio that fosters the development of high value ISAM capabilities
Getting there is going to take a lot of research and development at both academic institutions and commercial companies.
- Define a coherent ISAM ecosystem of available and needed capabilities
Right now, it’s not even clear exactly what systems and capabilities a robust ISAM ecosystem needs.
- Prioritize Expanding Scalable ISAM Infrastructure
This isn’t a project that’s going to happen overnight, or all in one goal. ISAM will use existing infrastructure where it can, and incrementally build more of it as-needed.
- Bolster ground-based infrastructure
ISAM operations in space require strong support systems on the ground.
- Support development of space-based infrastructure
The strategy recognizes that a strong ISAM-enabled space infrastructure will give both U.S. companies a commercial advantage, and support open markets for international commercial interests.
- Accelerate the Emerging ISAM Commercial Industry
ISAM seeks to support the growth of companies like companies like ours that can offer significant contributions to ISAM operations.
- Provide a sustained demand signal for ISAM capabilities
Part of ISAM is to tell the commercial space community, “this is what we’re going to need going forward, and we’re going to need a lot of it.”
- Increase collaboration between government stakeholders and with industry.
Successful implementation of ISAM will require that everyone work together, effectively and efficiently.
- Promote International Collaboration and Cooperation
We’re not the only ones working on ISAM operations, and the ISAM strategy will work to cooperate and coordinate with countries around the globe.
- Prioritize Environmental Sustainability
Even as we seek to operate in the furthest reaches of space, ISAM recognizes that we only get one planet, and we should take care of it.
- Inspire the Future Space Workforce
The larger ISAM strategy will span generations. We should inspire the engineers, operators and visionaries of tomorrow.
How is Motiv Supporting the ISAM Strategy?
In quite a number of ways actually.
First, we’re proud to be a part of the OSAM-2 mission, with our partners at NASA and RedWire. For that mission, a Motiv xLink robotic arm assists in the deployment of a 3D printed solar mast on a satellite orbiting around the earth.
But OSAM-2 is just a small example of the types of ISAM capabilities and operations that Motiv and our products can support.
Like OSAM-2 demonstrates, the xLink robotic arm is a great tool for ISAM operations, whether those are additive manufacturing, in-space assembly, refueling or more. It’s cost-effective, highly capable and highly modular and configurable. The xLink is also radiation hardened for GEO (geosynchronous earth orbit), where that can be a significant concern.
In many ways, our ModuLink platform is built for ISAM. It offers a series of modular components like robotic arms, connectors, sensors and more than can be added to existing spacecraft. These can then be used for ISAM operations like repairs and replacements, refueling, manufacturing, repositioning and even space junk removal.
Beyond those larger solutions, Motiv’s motor controllers can enable a wide range of ISAM activities, from powering grippers and latching mechanisms, to mobility systems and more. Motiv’s research and development operations into space-rated robotic components that can operate in extreme conditions, (like COLDArm and DEEDS), will also have significant implications on the future of ISAM operations.
And those are all products and capabilities that Motiv developed before the ISAM strategy was even developed. As a relatively smaller, nimble company, Motiv is able to quickly pivot as new opportunities present themselves, and the ISAM strategy represents one of those opportunities.