US Space Force wants to test how to build satellites in orbit with $1.6 million Arkisys deal

The Port in-space manufacturing facility envisioned by Arkisys for the U.S. Space Force.
Arkisys Inc.'s rendering of its scalable commercial space platform, The Port (Image credit: Arkisys Inc.)

The U.S. Space Force has inked a deal to build satellites in orbit in a bid to boost space infrastructure. 

Under the Space Force agreement, the U.S. defense agency's innovation division SpaceWERX has awarded a $1.6 million Direct-to-Phase II SBIR contract to the California-based Arkisys Inc., in collaboration with aerospace partners Qediq Inc, Novawurks, Motive Space Systems, iBoss, and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES).

Arkisys and its associates are building The Port, one of the first commercial orbiting platforms and long-duration space-infrastructure-as-a-service businesses to expand commercial activities in space. This visionary platform concept can be employed for a variety of applications including new technology hosting, satellite integration, assembly and resupply. Think of it as a sort of "gateway service station and seaport hub in space," with the pioneering ability to assemble functional satellites off of another platform.

This represents a novel approach to reusable technology platforms for creating the planet's first world's first fully robotic orbital destination to aid space construction projects for existing customers and new markets in Earth orbit, the moon, Mars and beyond, according to the company.

Related: What is the U.S. Space Force and what does it do?

"This new effort expands the overall services we have created to include the high fidelity manipulation required to assemble and then release a new space platform off of our Ports in orbit," said Dave Barnhart of Arkisys Inc. in the official press release. "This award opens up a unique methodology to support on-orbit flexibility, mission change in flight, high fidelity manipulation, and assembly of complex objects. And it's super cool!"

Working out of its Los Alamitos, California headquarters, Arkisys, Inc. has additional offices and facilities in New Zealand and Singapore. They're an industry-leading provider of advanced spacecraft architectures, structures, and platform solutions with goals to manufacture the first long-duration space platform with a completely scalable architecture to deliver multiple services for a growing international space commerce customer base starting in 2024.

"Through the unique SBIR process from U.S. Space Force and SpaceWERX, we will address using resources in space to create new platforms or modify them on the fly, rather than only build new ones," said Talbot Jaeger, CTO of Novawurks Inc. in the same announcement. "The Port will demonstrate a platform that can create a space system from parts into an operational element. We are proud to support Arkisys with our unique HISat system to achieve a full-scale demonstration."

An artist concept for The Port, a modular, robotic platform that Arkisys plans to assemble in low-Earth orbit. (Image credit: Arkisys Inc.)

The entire Port team intends on performing a full-scale demonstration in 1G in the near future to prove its concept of harnessing robotic operations to assemble a functional modular space platform for spacecraft hosting, payload testing, and subsystem diagnostics of all types.

"The ability to assemble a functional satellite off of another platform is something that will open up not just Earth orbit markets and on-the-fly changes to existing satellites, but to on demand satellites for lunar or Martian exploration," added Dr. Robert Ambrose, director of space and robotics Initiatives at TEES. "This is incredibly exciting for us as we are developing platforms to validate and demonstrate higher fidelity robotics on orbit, to build, assemble, repair and operate."

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.