Report: On-Orbit Assembly of Space Assets – A Path to Affordable and Adaptable Space Infrastructure (TAC 2018)

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Source: The Aerospace Corporation


On-orbit assembly is an important step toward the proliferation of highly adaptable and capable space infrastructure. Space capabilities for both traditional and new stakeholders will be revolutionized by the ability to assemble modular building blocks into a functional and complex infrastructure. To succeed, these building blocks must be compatible and interoper-able, with some level of autonomy; however, there is currently no governance for establishing standards in key areas that enable on-orbit assembly (e.g., mechanical, electrical, power, ther-mal, and data interfaces).

A goal of the 2010 U.S. National Space Policy is to “promote a robust domestic commercial space industry” and “foster fair and open global trade and commerce through the promotion of suitable standards and regulations that have been developed with input from U.S. indus-try.” To spur the development of innovative on-orbit assembly, stakeholders should anticipate the needs of the increasingly diverse space industry and act to establish interface standards.

The future of assembly-driven architectures will be determined either by incompatible national and industry-proprietary solutions, or by a cooperative path toward open architectures based on compatible, interoperable building blocks.

This paper seeks to explain the pressing need for interface standards for on-orbit assembly, outline current efforts to achieve this objective, discuss policy implications of on-orbit assembly, and propose an initial roadmap for the on-orbit assembly community.