Repair and refuelling of satellites in space may soon be automated

Repair and refuelling of satellites in space may soon be automated

Almost every 16 days for more than two decades, the Landsat 7 satellite circled the Earth in a 99-minute orbit. In addition to revealing the level of deforestation in Papua New Guinea and the melting of Greenland’s glaciers as well as the expansion of Mexico’s shrimp farms, this craft was one of several that monitored the changing global climate. However, Landsat 7’s useful life was practically over when it ran out of fuel. Regular maintenance hasn’t been possible in space due to the lack of gravity.

NASA, on the other hand, may have a solution for these weakened satellites. NASA aims to put a robot in orbit and bring it within reach of Landsat 7 in a few years. Mid-air refills are possible since the robot has a mechanical arm that can grab onto it and replenish it.

The first time a satellite has been refuelled in space, if the operation is successful, it will be a historic moment. Additionally, there are several proposed governmental and commercial projects to utilise robots to repair and upgrade the billion-dollar worth of spacecraft now orbiting Earth..

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A long-term goal is the development of better and more cost-effective Internet and cell phone networks, improved weather predictions and unparalleled vistas of the earth and the universe, thanks to activities like these. It’s possible that robots may be used to create new satellites, space stations, and even Mars-bound rockets in space.

Nearly 5,000 spacecraft in orbit at any given time perform vital roles in communication, remote sensing and other functions. Because there was no method of correcting anything if something went wrong, most of them were launched with that in mind. Most satellites also require fuel to periodically alter their orbits. As soon as it’s gone, they’ll join the ever-expanding stream of trash that round the planet.

The president of an industry association called the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CERO) said, “Imagine you’re going to go buy a car tomorrow” (CONFERS). Keep in mind too that you will never be able to add more gas to the tank.” The oil will always need to be changed. Nothing can ever be maintained or repaired. And you’ll have to use it for the following ten years as well. Do you have any idea how much the vehicle will cost or how difficult it will be to build? What we’ve done with satellites is exactly that:

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Engineers design satellites with redundant systems and as much fuel as feasible in order to keep them operational for as long as possible. A contemporary communications satellite can cost around $500 million to develop and launch because of all the over-engineering.

Most building and maintenance in space has relied at least partially on humans, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station.” However, because putting humans in space is too expensive, recent years have seen an increase in the development of robots capable of taking their place.

In the future, “we would really want to have a robotic mechanic in space that can fix satellites when they break,” says Carl Glen Henshaw, chief of the US Naval Research Laboratory’s robotics and machine learning branch.

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Rescue by robots!
Researchers have made headway in this direction in the recent few decades. For the first time, two spacecraft connected in orbit and swapped fuel during a NASA demonstration operation in 2007. “mission extension vehicles,” equipped with their own motors and fuel, hooked themselves to two commercial satellites and boosted them into new orbits in 2020 by Northrop Grumman.

This decade will see the introduction of two new missions that will take service to a new level. Even modest repairs may be made to satellites using mechanical arms on semi-autonomous robots in the demonstration projects.