Most people involved in some product development have had a lousy supply chain experience at least once in their careers. It would be so much easier if all the parts needed to make your product were available nearby and didn’t take much effort to get to you. That is especially true if you happen to be making your product in space – one of the most significant hurdles to developing a fully-fledged space economy is the difficulty (i.e., cost) of getting those products into space.
NASA knows this and realizes that the ability to assemble and even build some of its missions directly in space would be far superior to its current methodology of building and testing everything on Earth, then launching it into space and hoping it doesn’t blow up on the way. That is a pipe dream for now, but NASA can make dreams a reality if it sets its collective mind to it. It has certainly put its mind to making things in space and has taken the first step toward doing that by setting up a new consortium for In-space Service Assembly and Manufacturing (ISAM).
The COnsortium for Space Mobility and ISAM Capabilities (COSMIC) was announced by NASA’s head of Space Technology Mission Directorate, Jim Reuter, in April at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. As with many public-private partnerships, while NASA is funding most of the organization’s operations, it will be run by The Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit that helps operate a research center for the US Space Force and other US governmental agencies.
Some of those governmental agencies had a hand in crafting two reports headed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The reports, which detail a national ISAM strategy, were released in 2022 and were intended to merge the efforts of academia, governments, and private industry around developing new ISAM technologies.
As stated in those reports, part of the reason for the increased efforts is the threat the US government feels from potential rivals, such as China’s space program. The CNSA has taken steps toward utilizing space resources with some of its Chang’e rovers, and it is clear from the OSTP reports that there is no way the US government plans to lose its lead in developing technologies that can be used to unlock the space economy.
Some of those technologies have already been demonstrated recently, such as the Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV), headed by Northrupp Grumman. MRV and other missions like it prove that in-orbit technologies can provide services like increasing the lifespan of existing satellites by lifting their orbits. COSMIC members hope to use these successful missions as inspiration and continue their development into fully-fledged commercial services.
For now, it’s not clear what, if any, organizations are signed up to the new consortium. However, there is little doubt that, with NASA’s full support behind it, COSMIC itself will become an integral player in the world of ISAM. For now, you can sign up to be on their email server, or you could patiently wait for a kick-off meeting the organization plans to hold in the fall. Either way, this is hopefully a well-funded and supported effort by one of the most prominent organizations in space exploration to throw its weight behind a growing industry. If you want to learn more about what the consortium will offer, you can find its new webpage here.
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The On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1) test bed testing a robotic arm.
Credit – NASA / Michael Guinto