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
JUL 30, 2022
Space & Astronomy
A New Method to Detect Exoplanets
JUL 30, 2022
A New Method to Detect Exoplanets
There have been thousands of exoplanets found orbiting around single – or ‘normal’ – stars, but ...
AUG 23, 2022
Space & Astronomy
NASA's Longest Mission: Voyager Reaches a Milestone of 45 Years in Space!
AUG 23, 2022
NASA's Longest Mission: Voyager Reaches a Milestone of 45 Years in Space!
It has been 45 years since NASA’s twin Voyager probes launched into space, making them NASA’s longest operat ...
AUG 26, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
The Sound of a Black Hole
AUG 26, 2022
The Sound of a Black Hole
NASA has figured out what a black hole sounds like, and it’s terrifying. The video was uploaded to YouTube in May ...
SEP 14, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Looking Back in Space: NASA's Project Gemini
SEP 14, 2022
Looking Back in Space: NASA's Project Gemini
This series will explore historic space missions from the start of the Space Age to the present day, including both crew ...
SEP 21, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Are Water Worlds Common?
SEP 21, 2022
Are Water Worlds Common?
A study recently published in Science suggests that many exoplanets have larger amounts of water than previously thought ...
DEC 03, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Mars' Crust Diversification Revealed
DEC 03, 2022
Mars' Crust Diversification Revealed
In a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a team of researchers led by the University of Iowa discuss ...
Loading Comments...