DEC 20, 2016 7:30 AM PST

Will NASA Soon Begin Refueling Earth-Orbiting Satellites?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

At some point during their limited lifespan, satellites tend to run out a fuel or require other bits of servicing while they’re in the middle of orbiting the Earth. Unfortunately, most become nothing more than Earth-orbiting space junk once their usefulness has expired, and dealing with the ongoing space junk problem is one of things NASA aims to do.

With a new initiative, NASA hopes to be able to both refuel and service the hardware of satellites while they’re in orbit around the Earth.

An artist's impression of the Restore L spacecraft that could refuel and service Earth-orbiting satellites in the future.

Image Credit: Restore L/NASA

They’ve officially signed a $127 million contract with Restore L/Loral of Paulo Alto, California for the Restore L spacecraft, which will be capable of refueling and servicing satellites that are already orbiting the Earth, where it is needed.

Restore L could launch into space and begin working like a traveling gas station as soon as 2020, where it will begin its operations on satellites in low-Earth orbit, but the company is being given at least five years to build a usable spacecraft that can perform these tasks.

After the idea proves itself to be effective, NASA may work on plans to re-fuel satellites at other altitudes of orbit, or perhaps even tap into the unused potential of many other commercial space companies around the country.

A pair of special robotic arms will also be built into the Restore L servicing spacecraft, which will allow it to perform hardware maintenance and more on certain Earth-orbiting satellites in addition to re-fueling them.

The inspiration behind getting this project going was undoubtedly sparked by China’s success in re-fueling one of their own Earth-orbiting satellites this past Summer. Although the United States wasn’t the first to attempt this maneuver, you can bet that NASA has ‘perfecting’ the process in mind.

It should be interesting to see how the re-fueling initiative changes the satellite market and fixes the space junk problem. Another benefit includes having longer-lasting satellites, which will be able to rake in more revenue over time for the companies that use them.

Perhaps soon, we won’t have to send up satellite replacements every time one simply runs out of fuel, leaving the old one to just float around uselessly in orbit around the Earth.

Source: NASA via The Verge

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 10, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 10, 2019
Mercury to be Visible as it Transits the Sun on Monday
Earthlings are in for some celestial eye candy on Monday, November 11th. Mercury, the smallest of the solar system’s eight planets, is expected to be...
NOV 17, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 17, 2019
How Much Do You Know About Triton?
Far beyond the reach of the terrestrial and gas giant planets in our solar system exists an entirely different class of world known as ice giants. Uranus a...
DEC 09, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
DEC 09, 2019
Astronauts help to advanced personalized medicine
Extreme temperatures and lethal levels of radiation are just some of the hazards faced by astronauts as they traverse the harsh conditions of space. Additi...
DEC 08, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 08, 2019
NASA's Parker Solar Probe Reveals Telling Clues About Our Sun
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is currently the closest spacecraft to the Sun today. Being this close gives the spacecraft an unprecedented opportunity to...
FEB 23, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 23, 2020
NASA Resolves a Minor Hiccup with Voyager 2 Spacecraft's Performance
After spending more than four decades in outer space, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft officially left the heliosphere and entered interstellar space in D...
FEB 25, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 25, 2020
What Would Happen if We Sent a Spacecraft Into the Sun?
In 2018, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe to get its closest look at the Sun yet. The probe gets as close as about 6.2 million kilometers from the Sun&...
Loading Comments...