Newsletter – Fourth Quarter 2018 Edition


Fourth Quarter 2018

From the Desk of the Executive Director

Dr. Brian Weeden, Executive Director

Dr. Brian Weeden, Executive Director

It has been a hugely busy (but productive) year for CONFERS. Last November, we embarked on a quest to create a new consortium of international companies that would facilitate discussions on best practices and standards for satellite servicing to bolster the commercial satellite servicing sector.
The twelve months since have been a whirlwind of activity by the CONFERS Secretariat towards that goal. Our team members at the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Center conducted a study of existing practices for rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) and published new research outlining ways to increase the safety of future RPO. The six companies that comprised our Formation Committee helped CONFERS create and launch the consortium, which has grown to twenty-two members. Experts from among our membership worked with experts from various governments throughout three international workshops to begin the process of developing principles, practices, and standards.

To cap off our first year of activities, we brought our members together in the first General Assembly to finalize and publish our first set of Guiding Principles for Commercial RPO and Satellite Servicing, and we made significant progress on a set of operating practices to live up to those principles. We also held the first Global Satellite Servicing Forum, a day-long conference featuring many of our members and the amazing capabilities and technologies they are developing for commercial OOS and RPO.

The following articles in this newsletter detail these and the other activities of CONFERS over the course of 2018. Of course, this is just the beginning, we plan to continue these activities and add more in 2019 as we build on the momentum we’ve generated. We will finalize and publish our first set of RPO operating practices, begin research and discussion on interfaces and design, and continue to engage with the broader set of private sector and government stakeholders in satellite servicing.

We hope to see you along the way!

Dr. Brian Weeden
Executive Director, CONFERS
Director of Program Planning, Secure World Foundation

CONFERS Represented at IAC 2018 in Bremen, Germany

picture of Secretariat at the CONFERS booth at IAC in Bremen, Germany

Secretariat at the CONFERS booth at IAC in Bremen, Germany

By: Dave Barnhart, Research Director

As part of our international outreach activities, CONFERS had a significant presence at the 69th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which was held in Bremen, Germany this past October. The IAC is the largest annual international space conference, and this year’s event brought together more than 6,500 delegates from 83 countries from industry, government, and academia to share the latest research on space technologies. CONFERS had a booth featured in a prominent location that generated significant foot traffic and interest, helping with outreach to the media, industry, and the public.

Members of the CONFERS Secretariat also contributed to the IAC technical sessions. I, on behalf of my team at the University of Southern California’s Space Engineering Research Center, presented the results of our first year’s work on the existing practices and standards for RPO in the “Lessons Learned in Space Systems” technical session. The paper highlighted our survey of past RPO events and evaluated the existing metrics or operations for RPO safety. We found that there was no standard schema for how an RPO engagement is run and observed that the RPO and OOS community uses a multitude of methods to represent RPO engagements. Correspondingly, there was a lack of internationally-accepted lexicon to define unique attributes of RPO and a general identification that safety should be paramount in an RPO engagement. Based on that research, we proposed potential risk assessment tools for future safety standards that incorporate unitless and scalable metrics for velocity of approach, pointing accuracy and plume impingement influences between a servicer and client satellite. We also provided a baseline for the CONFERS Lexicon Working Group to begin developing a set of terms and definitions for the Consortium.

picture of CONFERS members at Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany

CONFERS members at Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany

Over the course of the week, CONFERS Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator, Ian Christensen gave several paper presentations on industry consensus principles and their instantiation via CONFERS, and he served as a Rapporteur on a session on financing and investment. CONFERS Executive Director, Dr. Brian Weeden participated on the Innovative Spacecraft Concepts and Servicing panel as part of the special session to discuss how standards can help generate and support the industry.

Developing the Initial Principles and Practices for Commercial Satellite Servicing

picture of Brian Weeden, CONFERS Executive Director, welcomes membership to the CONFERS General Assembly.

Brian Weeden, CONFERS Executive Director, welcomes membership to the CONFERS General Assembly.

By: Ian Christensen, Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator

The main objective of CONFERS is to bring together experts from industry and government to develop principles, practices, and technical standards that will enable commercial satellite servicing. In our first year of operations, we worked hard to create and execute a collaborative process to focus on RPO. The process started with technical research conducted by Dr. Dave Barnhart and his team at USC on the existing practices and standards for RPO that set the baseline for further discussions.

Throughout the second half of 2018, CONFERS held a series of workshops to build on that baseline and began discussions of best practices and standards for commercial RPO. We conducted workshops in May and July in the United States, and in Germany in September, that brought together participants from companies and government subject matter experts from France, Germany, Canada, Europe, the United States, and Japan. Over the course of the discussions, a three-tiered approach was developed. The initial focus will be a set of high-level guiding principles that outline the overall values and goals for commercial RPO, followed by a more in-depth set of recommended design and operating practices. The practices will initially be based on government experiences from historical RPO missions, but they will be updated as commercial missions take place. Specific practices that need more definition and validation would then be candidates for the third tier of future technical standards. In parallel, we created a Lexicon Working Group to develop a set of terms and definitions for use throughout the Consortium’s work.

After several months of hard work, CONFERS members approved the first set of Guiding Principles for Commercial Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) and On-Orbit Servicing (OOS) in November 2018. The document highlights consensual operations, compliance with relevant laws and regulations, responsible operations, and transparency as the key principles that will underpin commercial RPO and OOS.

picture of Brian Weeden announcing the CONFERS Guiding Principles

Brian Weeden announcing the CONFERS Guiding Principles

Our work is not yet done. We are collaborating with our members and government subject matter experts to continue to refine the initial set of Design and Operating Practices for Commercial Satellite Servicing, which we plan to finish in the next few months. In 2019, CONFERS will expand our focus from RPO to include satellite servicing and interfaces, beginning with an additional research project led by USC that feeds into another set of international workshops that will be open to Consortium members and subject matter experts from government and industry. For information on how to join CONFERS, please see our website.

Inaugural Global Satellite Servicing Forum Highlights Commercial Capabilities and Opportunities

By: Stacey Lindbergh, Program Manager

picture of speaker, James Reuter

James Reuter, Acting Associate Administrator, Head of Space Technology Mission Directorate, NASA, speaking at GSSF.

CONFERS conducted its first major public event, the  Global Satellite Servicing Forum (GSSF) on November 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. Our plan is to establish the GSSF as the premier annual event for discussing the global satellite servicing technology, market, and policy developments.

Brian Weeden, CONFERS Executive Director, welcomed the sold-out international audience to provide an initial overview of the Consortium and the day’s events. Dr. Weeden was followed by Fred Kennedy, Director of the Tactical Technology Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who provided background on why DARPA began CONFERS and how they hope it will boost the satellite servicing industry.

Jim Reuter, Acting Associate Administrator and head of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and Kevin O’Connell, Director of U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce provided the morning and afternoon keynote addresses. Mr. Reuter highlighted the role that satellite servicing and commercial capabilities can play in NASA’s plans for space exploration, science, and development. Mr. O’Connell discussed the importance of commercial space to U.S. economic prosperity and the steps the Trump Administration is taking to modernize space regulations and develop space traffic management to better enable commercial space activities.

In addition to the keynotes, the GSSF featured a series of short “flash talks” by a wide range of industry representatives that highlighted specific RPO and OOS technologies, capabilities, and services under development, along with supporting services, such as insurance, manufacturers, and launch. The program also included two panel discussions that looked at market and business trends in satellite servicing and discussed policy and regulatory considerations with government representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

The entire GSSF was webcast. The video recordings and presentations are being posted on the CONFERS website as they become available at the following link:

CONFERS plans to hold the next edition of the GSSF in October 2019. If you are interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at the 2019 event, please contact Stacey Lindbergh, CONFERS Program Manager at

Executive Committee Election Nomination Reminder

The CONFERS Formation Committee has approved the CONFERS Executive Committee and Election Policy, which contains the Executive Committee Nomination Form in Appendix A. The CONFERS Secretariat will oversee the election and be accepting nominations to the CONFERS Executive Committee through Monday, January 18th, 2019.

Each member organization in good standing is asked to complete an Executive Committee Nomination Form(s) and submit to Stacey Lindbergh, CONFERS Program Manager at A sustaining membership organization shall nominate only in the sustaining member category. A contributing member shall nominate only in the contributing member category.

The Secretariat will compile the nominations received and provide ballots to member organizations electronically, which will be provided on January 21st, 2019 and must be completed and returned within 30 days, or by February 19th, 2019. Each member organization will be provided only one ballot for their organization.

The results of the Executive Committee election will be communicated via the CONFERS Member’s Only site and announced via an email to all CONFERS members.

If you have questions or need further information, please contact Stacey Lindbergh, CONFERS Program Manager at 843.760.3566 or


The Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) is an industry-led initiative with initial seed funding provided by DARPA that aims to leverage best practices from government and industry to research, develop, and publish non-binding, consensus-derived technical and operations standards for OOS and RPO. These standards would provide the foundation for a new commercial repertoire of robust space-based capabilities and a future in-space economy. To find out more about CONFERS, visit: