NASA announces successful robotic satellite refueling demonstration

Shane McGlaun - Feb 11, 2013, 4:22am CST
NASA announces successful robotic satellite refueling demonstration

NASA has announced the successful completion of a robotic refueling demonstration for satellites. The mission was called the Robotic Refueling Mission or RRM. During the demonstration, NASA used remote-controlled robots and currently available technology to prove that satellites in orbit could be refueled even if they weren’t designed to be serviced.

The test was conducted from January 14 through January 25 and has only now been announced. The demonstration resulted in the first robotic fluid transfer demonstration and shows that robotic satellite servicing capabilities are possible. NASA says that the ability to refuel satellites in orbit will lead to a greener and more sustainable space program.

NASA also hopes that its RRM demonstration may help boost the commercial satellite servicing industry. The technology used in the robotic refueling demonstration was developed over 18 months and launched in July 2011 aboard STS-135, the last space shuttle mission. The technology was a joint development between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency.

The successful test has proven, according to NASA, that the service life of hundreds of satellites currently in GEO can be extended. Satellites in that type of orbit are used for all manner of critical services including weather reports, cell phone communications, television broadcasts, government communications, and air traffic management. NASA believes that the technology could also result in significant savings by preventing the need for satellite replacement and eliminating launch costs. The successful demonstration used the Canadian Dextre robot four.

That robot had to cut a pair of twisted wires approximately the thickness of four sheets of paper used to secure spacecraft components during launch. Once the wires were cut, the robotic system had to unscrew and store a pair of protective caps to expose the fuel tank. The fuel tank could then be refueled using a washing-machine size RRM module in orbit.

[via NASA]

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