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
OCT 16, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The "Missing" Laureate at 2020 Physics Nobel
OCT 16, 2020
The "Missing" Laureate at 2020 Physics Nobel
Last week, the science community celebrated the awarding of this year's Nobel Physics Prize to a trio of black hole ...
NOV 20, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
The Passing of a Neutrino Hunting Pioneer
NOV 20, 2020
The Passing of a Neutrino Hunting Pioneer
Masatoshi Koshiba, a revered Japanese physicist known for his groundbreaking work on cosmic neutrino detection, passed a ...
NOV 24, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend sea level monitoring
NOV 24, 2020
Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend sea level monitoring
Days ago, a new satellite was launched from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with the ...
DEC 28, 2020
Space & Astronomy
China Willing to Share New Moon Samples
DEC 28, 2020
China Willing to Share New Moon Samples
China has recovered the first new moon rock samples in decades, and from a previously unexplored part of the moon. Now w ...
DEC 29, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Why is the Sun's Outer Atmosphere Hotter than its Surface?
DEC 29, 2020
Why is the Sun's Outer Atmosphere Hotter than its Surface?
The fact that the Sun's distant atmosphere is significantly hotter than its surface has been a topic of confusion in ...
FEB 21, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Electrical Storms, Disaster & Auroras From a Flipping Magnetic Field
FEB 21, 2021
Electrical Storms, Disaster & Auroras From a Flipping Magnetic Field
As we move through space, the magnetic field of the planet, which (the dynamo theory states is) generated by its metal c ...
Loading Comments...