Notional Robotic Servicing Mission |
NASA's SSCO is studying a conceptual mission that would debut a robotic servicing vehicle with the capability to refuel satellites that were not designed for servicing. Over the years, SSCO has examined the feasibility of such a notional mission for satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) and in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO).
Why Service Satellites?Located in the regime of space up to 1,000 km in altitude, LEO is home to several hundred operational satellites providing Earth observation and weather tracking. LEO also has the benefit of being the easiest orbit to access.
Low Earth orbit, or LEO, is the orbital highway for many satellites providing Earth observation and weather tracking. LEO has the benefit of being the easiest orbit to access.
Refueling and maintaining these costly assets could keep them operating longer in space, giving government and commercial stakeholders more value from their initial investments and potentially delivering significant savings in spacecraft replacement and launch costs.
A capability to service these satellites could help make space greener and more sustainable. Drifting satellites take up valuable real estate and pose a risk to their space neighbors.
Satellite servicing technologies are more than just a way to fix satellites: they are a building block for deep-space exploration and discovery. With these robotic capabilities in its tool belt, NASA could be better equipped to undertake tasks such as assembling an observatory or habitat in space, catching up with an asteroid, or fixing a spacecraft en route to Mars.
A notional servicer's arms precisely peel back a client's thermal blanket, one of the first steps in robotic servicing. (Artist's concept)
Development WorkTo support such a potential Notional Robotic Servicing Mission, SSCO has been conducting an aggressive development campaign to mature technologies in uncharted territories. Efforts include: