Insight - Fostering Industry Standards for Satellite Servicing

Thursday, November 16, 2017

By Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning

The next major step in space applications, market creation, and robotic and human exploration is potentially being created through the advent of cooperative on-orbit satellite servicing (OOS). The ability to approach, grasp, manipulate, modify, repair, refuel, integrate, and build completely new platforms and spacecraft on orbit is underway through new OOS vehicles and experiments. A closely related field, on-orbit rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO), is also being actively explored by commercial firms, civil government organizations, and militaries for a wide variety of applications. Yet today there is no common set of standards or norms associated with safe and secure RPO and OOS activities in space.

The Secure World Foundation (SWF) is proud to be part of a team that recently won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to help address this issue. In November 2016, DARPA released a request for proposal for the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) Program. On October 3, 2017, a team consisting of SWF, the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Center (SERC), and the Space Infrastructure Foundation (SIF), and led by Advanced Technology International (ATI), was awarded the initial phase of a multi-year contract to establish the Consortium.

The goal of CONFERS is to develop standards and best practices for safe and sustainable OOS and RPO activities. Over the first twelve months of the contract, SWF and its partners plan to establish the Consortium, research existing practices on OOS and RPO, and develop a multi-stakeholder process that brings together experts from industry, academia, government, and the international community. These experts would provide insight and guidance to draft standards for technical interfaces and designs, data exchange and sharing, operational practices, and transparency and confidence building measures that would help enable future OOS and RPO activities. Once approved by the Consortium members, the draft standards would be worked through existing Standards Development Organizations, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS).

SWF’s contributions to this project aim to build on our previous work on norms of behavior. In June 2012, SWF partnered with DARPA to organize a conference in Washington, D.C. that discussed how to foster sustainable satellite servicing. In October 2012, SWF hosted a similar conference on OOS and ADR in Brussels, Belgium with key members of the European space community. In November 2012, SWF organized a workshop in Washington, D.C. that examined the policy and regulatory implications of future OOS and active debris removal (ADR) scenarios. And in February 2013, SWF partnered with the Singapore Space and Technology Association (SSTA) to host a workshop on OOS and ADR scenarios with experts from the Asia-Pacific region. The insights and conclusions from all these discussions were summarized in a paper presented at the International Astronautical Congress in Beijing, China in September 2013, and presented to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) in February 2014. In April 2017, SWF held a workshop in Darmstadt, Germany to discuss the basic principles, key issues, and opportunities to be addressed in order to ensure that ADR activities develop in a safe, responsible, and transparent manner. These discussions help set a baseline for the work of CONFERS over the next few years. 

The success of CONFERS depends on participation from key members of the broader space community. Over the coming months SWF, alongside our teammates, intend to begin a program of outreach and engagement with the industry, academia, government, and international stakeholder community. This effort will seek to provide further information on the CONFERS program, its activities and work plan, and on potential ways to become engaged in the initiative. We look forward to a collaborative forum as CONFERS proceeds.

For more information, contact SWF Director of Program Planning Dr. Brian Weeden at

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Last updated on November 16, 2017