WASHINGTON — A Virginia court has dismissed Orbital ATK's complaint against a government robotic satellite-servicing program on Thursday, according to a court memo.
Orbital ATK filed a suit in February against the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites program, alleging it violates National Space Policy. The policy, issued by then-President Barack Obama in 2010, states that the government should not subsidize space-related activities in which private entities are willing to invest on their own.
The court ruled that Orbital ATK's suit was based on an executive policy action, not law, and the program could not be stopped based on that.
"Upon reviewing the National Space Policy … the inescapable conclusion is that it represents a series of internal management directives and does not have the force of law," stated the court memo. "Although every president since Dwight Eisenhower has issued a National Space Policy directive … [Orbital] cannot point to a single case where one of these policies was actually found to have the force of law."
"We intend to work with those in the Administration, DoD and Congress who believe in fair competition and would never want U.S. taxpayer dollars to favor one company over others," an Orbital ATK company statement said, according to Space Intel.
President Donald Trump has not issued his own National Space Policy but he did relaunch the dormant advisory board, the National Space Council, on June 30 in a ceremony attended by executives from prominent companies, including Orbital ATK.
DARPA’s RSGS program seeks to develop a robot capable of installing new payloads, correcting small anomalies, and inspecting and moving geosynchronous satellites in orbit about 20,000 miles from the Earth. RSGS set out to partner with a company that would integrate the robot into a spacecraft and operate the mission while the government would shoulder the cost of launch.
On Feb. 9, after the suit had been filed, DARPA selected Space Systems Loralof Palo Alto, California, as its partner company.
Orbital ATK has been developing a similar satellite-servicing vehicle, the Mission Extension Vehicle, and the company claimed the subsidy would put them at a commercial disadvantage.
However, according to letters sent from DARPA acting Director Steven Walker to several lawmakers, the agency conducted research concluding industry was not looking into similar innovations.
"In the two years prior to issuing the RSGS solicitation, DARPA conducted market analysis of various nascent satellite servicing initiatives, none of which exist today, and concluded that no company proposed to develop a dexterous robotic capability that would enable the close inspection, repair and installation functions that DARPA intends to demonstrate with RSGS," he said.