Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA's Robotic Refueling Demo Set to Jumpstart Expanded Capabilities in Space

11.01.2013
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.

The RRM demonstration specifically tests what it would take to repair and refuel satellites traveling the busy space highway of geosynchronous Earth orbit, or GEO. Located about 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.

By 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.

Besides aiding the GEO satellite community, a capability to fix and relocate "ailing" satellites also could help manage the growing orbital debris problem that threatens continued space operations, ultimately making space greener and more sustainable.

How RRM Is Making a Difference

Built by SSCO in the span of 18 months, the washing-machine-sized RRM module contains the components, activity boards and tools to practice several of the tasks that would be performed in orbit during a real servicing mission. Launched to the space station on July 8, 2011, aboard the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program, RRM was the last payload an astronaut ever removed from a shuttle.

In 2012, RRM demonstrated dexterous robotic operations in space. Dextre's 12-foot arm and accompanying RRM tool successfully snipped two twisted wires -- each the thickness of two sheets of paper -- with only a few millimeters of clearance: a task essential to the satellite refueling process.

The RRM refueling demonstration on Jan. 14-24 will employ the Canadian-built Dextre, NASA's RRM module and four unique RRM tools to show that space robots controlled from Earth -- hundreds or even thousands of miles below -- can transfer fuel to satellites with triple-sealed valves that were never designed to be accessed.

"The RRM operations team is very excited about the upcoming refueling demonstration," says Charlie Bacon, RRM operations manager. "Over the last two years, the team has put in more than 300 hours of preparation -- reviewing procedures, running simulations, and communicating with team members from other NASA centers and our international partners. When we finally execute the namesake task of RRM, we anticipate that our work will culminate in proving that in-orbit satellite refueling is no longer future technology -- it's current technology."

Although the RRM module will never fix or refuel a satellite itself, its advanced tools and practice runs are laying the foundation for future in-orbit robotic servicing missions. Additional RRM demonstrations will continue into 2013, with a new round of servicing task boards, tools and activities slated to continue its investigations through 2015.

What's Next in Robotic Satellite Servicing?

The satellite-servicing concept that RRM is advancing is one that NASA has been developing for years. Beginning with the Solar Maximum repair mission in 1984, the servicing philosophy paved the way for five successful astronaut-based missions to upgrade and repair the Hubble Space Telescope and has been practiced more recently in spacewalks to assemble and maintain the space station.

With the RRM on the space station and a robust technology development campaign being conducted on the ground, NASA is testing capabilities for a new robotic servicing frontier. Since 2009, the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has been aggressively advancing the robotic technologies for a free-flying servicer spacecraft that could access, repair and refuel satellites in GEO.

To this end, the SSCO team has been studying a conceptual servicing mission and building technologies to address uncharted territory such as autonomous rendezvous and docking, propellant transfer systems for zero gravity and specialized algorithms (computer commands) to orchestrate and synchronize satellite-servicing operations. A systems engineering review on this conceptual mission was recently conducted with positive responses from peer experts and external participants.

Reed and the SSCO team see many applications across NASA for these new, game-changing capabilities.

"The technologies we're building to help rescue satellites in five years could be the very same ones used to clean up space ten years in the future or save a spacecraft on the way to Mars 30 years from now," says Reed. "NASA is acting today to ensure that we have the capabilities America needs for the future. With satellite servicing technologies, we're bolstering the agency's long-term strategy as we invest in near-term tactical technology investments. RRM is just the beginning."

by Adrienne Alessandro
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Adrienne Alessandro | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/rrm_capabilities.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Space radiation won't stop NASA's human exploration
18.10.2017 | NASA/Johnson Space Center

nachricht Study shows how water could have flowed on 'cold and icy' ancient Mars
18.10.2017 | Brown University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Osaka university researchers make the slipperiest surfaces adhesive

18.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

Space radiation won't stop NASA's human exploration

18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Los Alamos researchers and supercomputers help interpret the latest LIGO findings

18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>