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The Globe and Mail

MDA signs satellite services deal with Intelsat

Dan Friedmann, president and chief executive officer of MDA

LAURA LEYSHON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. will enjoy the backing of a $280-million (U.S.) agreement with Intelsat S.A. when it launches its planned servicing business for orbiting satellites.

The contract is for the servicing of Intelsat's on-orbit satellites via a space-based service vehicle to be provided by MDA.

"The innovative technology has the potential to extend the useful lives of Intelsat's satellites and enhance in-orbit reliability," Intelsat said in a release.

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Vancouver-based MDA plans to launch its Space Infrastructure Servicing vehicle into near geosynchronous orbit where it will service commercial and government satellites in need of additional fuel, repositioning or other maintenance.

The SIS vehicle is expected to be the first of its kind, utilizing a sophisticated robotics and docking system. It will be based on work that MDA has previously performed for NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and various defence agencies.

The SIS vehicle's robotic arm will be used in refuelling and may also be used to perform critical maintenance and repair tasks, such as releasing jammed deployable arrays and stabilizing or towing smaller space objects or debris, the companies said.

MDA, meanwhile, has selected Intelsat General Corp. as its exclusive channel to bring on-orbit services to the U.S. government.

Intelsat, the world's largest operator of commercial satellites in the geosynchronous arc, is expected to provide flight operations support for the SIS vehicle for the life of the mission.

Under the terms of the agreement, MDA and Intelsat will work together to finalize specifications and other requirements over the next six months before both parties authorize the build phase of the program. Launching of the first refuelling mission is expected to be possible within 3.5 years after that.

"On-orbit refuelling and servicing is a game-changing innovation," said Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat's chief technical officer.

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"It is important for Intelsat, managing the largest commercial satellite fleet, to support technologies and tools that expand our capabilities in space. We intend to implement this technology as a tool in fleet management that will improve operational reliability, increase the return on our on-orbit assets, ensure good stewardship of the space environment and deliver this increased flexibility to our government customers as well."

MDA president and chief executive officer Dan Friedmann said his company is "very pleased to have Intelsat, the world's leading provider of fixed satellite services, as the anchor customer for our new SIS offering and our partner in accessing the U.S. government market."

"There is a clear need to service the world's space infrastructure, both commercial and government. The combination of MDA's unparalleled and proven space servicing capabilities and Intelsat's commercial and government market presence is a good way to get this new service off the ground."

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