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Orbiting robots might assist repair and gas satellites in area


Orbiting robots could help fix and fuel satellites in space

janiecbros | Getty Photos

For greater than 20 years, the Landsat 7 satellite tv for pc circled Earth each 99 minutes or so, capturing photographs of virtually all of the planet’s floor every 16 days. One among many craft that noticed the altering globe, it revealed melting glaciers in Greenland, the expansion of shrimp farms in Mexico, and the extent of deforestation in Papua New Guinea. However after Landsat 7 ran brief on gas, its helpful life successfully ended. In area, common servicing has not been an possibility.

Now, although, NASA has a possible repair for such enfeebled satellites. In a couple of years, the company plans to launch a robotic into orbit and maneuver it to inside grabbing distance of Landsat 7. The robotic will use a mechanical arm to catch maintain of it and refuel it, mid-air.

If profitable, the mission would mark a milestone—the primary time a satellite tv for pc could be refueled in area. And this mission is only one of numerous deliberate private and non-private ventures supposed to make use of robots to restore and enhance the billions of {dollars}’ value of satellites in orbit.

Ultimately, efforts like these might result in higher and cheaper satellites that decrease the price of Web and mobile phone networks, present higher climate forecasts and provides unprecedented views of planetary change and of the Universe. They may even allow a brand new wave of in-orbit development, with armies of robots constructing satellites, area stations, and even Mars-bound spaceships.

Giving satellites longer lives

In the mean time there are about 4,852 working satellites in orbit, enjoying essential roles in communications, distant sensing, and different duties. Virtually all had been launched with the data that if something broke there was no approach of fixing it. Most satellites additionally want gas to often regulate their orbits. As soon as that’s gone they might grow to be a lot area junk, including to the already substantial stream of particles encircling the globe.

“Think about you’re going to go purchase a automobile tomorrow,” says Brian Weeden, head of an trade group known as the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS). “And it’s important to remember the fact that you’re by no means going to have the ability to put extra gasoline in it. You’ll be able to by no means change the oil. You’ll be able to by no means keep or repair something. And it’s important to use it for the following 10 years. Now, how costly and the way sophisticated do you assume that automobile goes to be? That’s precisely what we have now been doing with satellites.”

Thousands of working satellites are circling the globe at this moment. Many could become space junk if they can’t be repaired and refueled.
Enlarge / 1000’s of working satellites are circling the globe at this second. Many might grow to be area junk if they will’t be repaired and refueled.

ESRI

To maintain satellites working so long as potential, engineers construct in redundant techniques and pack in as a lot gas as they will match. All this over-engineering provides to the prices of constructing and launching the satellites—a contemporary communications satellite tv for pc can price about $500 million.

Virtually all development and restore that has occurred in area thus far has relied no less than partly on astronauts, together with fixes on the Hubble House Telescope and development of the Worldwide House Station. However sending people into area is tremendously costly, so the trouble to develop robots to do the job has grown lately.

“What we would like to do is have a way of getting a robotic mechanic in area that may repair satellites once they break,” says Carl Glen Henshaw, head of the robotics and machine studying part on the US Naval Analysis Laboratory.

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