On July 12, 2011, spacewalking astronauts Mike Fossum and Ron Garan successfully transferred the Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM, module from the Atlantis shuttle cargo bay to a temporary platform on the International Space Station’s Dextre robot. (NASA)

Robotic Refueling Demo Set to Jumpstart Expanded Capabilities in Space

Submitted by keith cowing on Thu, 01/10/2013 – 14:46.

In mid-January, NASA will take the next step in advancing robotic satellite-servicing technologies as it tests the Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM aboard the International Space Station. The investigation may one day substantially impact the many satellites that deliver products Americans rely upon daily, such as weather reports, cell phones and television news.

During five days of operations, controllers from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency will use the space station’s remotely operated Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, robot to simulate robotic refueling in space. Operating a space-based robotic arm from the ground is a feat on its own, but NASA will do more than just robotics work as controllers remotely snip wires, unscrew caps and transfer simulated fuel. The team also will demonstrate tools, technologies and techniques that could one day make satellites in space greener, more robust and more capable of delivering essential services to people on Earth.

Why Fix or Refuel a Satellite?

“Every satellite has a lifespan and eventual retirement date, determined by the reliability of its components and how much fuel it can carry,” explains Benjamin Reed, deputy project manager of NASA’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, or SSCO.

Repairing and refueling satellites already in place, Reed asserts, can be far less expensive than building and launching entirely new spacecraft, potentially saving millions, even billions of dollars and many years of work.

Read more: Robotic Refueling Demo Set to Jumpstart Expanded Capabilities in Space | OnOrbit.

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