NSF friends can someone just give a very simple idea what DARPA is looking for here?
As I see it.....the USAF had a Servicing program it was called the Space Shuttle and they walked away from that program.
So is this just about costs?
Well, my company was involved in Phase 1. What they were originally looking for was a way of changing the cost equation on spacecraft by attacking the cost of the spacecraft bus. The idea being that while you take a performance hit for a modular bus design based on snapping together a large number of Satlet "lego bricks", that the production rate for those lego bricks could be really high compared to satellites (enough to do an assembly line), and you could drastically cut the price of designing and building spacecraft buses. A bus made of modular chunks might also be more graceful in its failure/degradation modes, and it might be possible to remove/replace defective lego-bricks, or add new upgraded versions as newer versions come out.
In order to make that satlet vision work, they needed to include some robotic assembly capabilities, and they also needed a way of getting lego bricks to GEO affordably (PODS). And ultimately they wanted to tie it together into some sort of a demo, so they picked the idea of harvesting an aperture (antenna dish) off of a dead GEO commsat to build the new satellite around. The apertures are one of the few pieces that don't degrade or get obsolete as quickly, and they also don't break up conveniently into lego-bricks. So if you could demonstrate the ability to reuse old antennas with new electronics and new bus hardware, it could be interesting. Combine that with scratching DARPA's spacecraft servicing itch by demonstrating the ability to modify a spacecraft on orbit, and you have the original plan.
Ultimately, I think the overall concept fell out of favor. There's always been a strong interest in space robotics at DARPA (primarily for servicing), and having a way of getting stuff to GEO (the PODS were interesting), but the specific servicing mission they were going after no longer seemed so compelling--maybe due to the launch costs or the cost of developing the most sophisticated robotic servicing spacecraft ever on a shoestring budget.
Not sure where things are going now, as our part was cut from the program a few months into Phase 2. But it sounds like they still want to make progress on the individual elements of the program, but are waiting for new ideas to try and wrap them into a new overall in-space demo.
In order to make that work, they also needed a way o