NASA has successfully concluded a remotely controlled test of new technologies that would empower future space robots to transfer hazardous oxidizer, a type of propellant, into the tanks of satellites in space today.
NASA is incorporating results from this test and the Robotic Refueling Mission on the International Space Station to prepare for an upcoming ground-based test of a full-sized robotic service system that will perform tasks on a mock satellite client.
These efforts are part of an ongoing and aggressive technology development campaign to equip robots and humans with the tools and capabilities needed for spacecraft maintenance and repair, the assembly of large space telescopes, and extended human exploration.
Technologies that could help satellites traveling the busy space highway of geosynchronous Earth orbit, or GEO.
Located 22,000 miles above Earth, this orbital path is home to more than 400 satellites, many of which beam communications, television and weather data to customers worldwide.
Developing robotic capabilities to repair and refuel GEO satellites, NASA hopes to add precious years of functional life to satellites and expand options for operators who face unexpected emergencies, tougher economic demands and aging fleets. NASA also hopes that these new technologies will help boost the commercial satellite-servicing industry that is rapidly gaining momentum.
Capability to fix and relocate “ailing” satellites also could help mitigate the growing orbital debris problem that threatens continued space operations.
The Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., checked another critical milestone off their list with the completion of their Remote Robotic Oxidizer Transfer Test (RROxiTT) in February 2014.
SSCO is also gearing up for the next phase of the Robotic Refueling Mission on the International Space Station. The next Automated Transfer Vehicle, currently scheduled to launch to the space station in June of this year, will deliver new RRM hardware for a fresh set of activities.
Upcoming demonstrations include spacecraft inspection, the replenishment of cryogens in satellites not originally designed for in-flight service, and advanced solar cell technology.