NASA always has new, innovative ideas up the company’s sleeve and what they will be attempting next could forever changed the way satellites are designed. With plans to launch July 8, NASA engineers will be loading Robotic Refueling Mission hardware and other equipment that is needed onto the shuttle Atlantis to refuel a satellite in space.
Usually, when a satellite is launched into orbit it already has all the fuel needed for its entire mission onboard. Once that fuel runs out, the satellite's life is over. This makes it incredibly hard for old satellites and ones that suffer a malfunction to keep working, according to an article on SPACE.com. However, this new in-space refueling project could totally alter the way things have been done in previous years.
Designed and created in Greenbelt, Maryland by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center the Robotic Refueling Mission experiment is reported to have a set of tools that not only have the ability to completely fill up satellites in space with all the gas they may need, but can also make minor repairs.
This system's first test is scheduled to take place using the orbiting lab's Canadian-built Dextre robot to ensure its successfulness. The refueling test hardware includes simulated caps, valves, external thermal blankets and ethanol fuel, experiment designers said to the article’s contributor.
For the Atlantis launch, the Robotic Refueling Mission hardware will be attached to a cargo platform which is located in the shuttle's payload bay, the article stated.
Officials from NASA stated that the Dextre robot has the very important job of using its set of tools to access the refueling systems. Adding to doubts is that on a majority of satellites, similar valves and other equipment were never created to be modified in space.
"Due to how these satellites were initially assembled, the nature of this mission is very complex," said Benjamin Reed, NASA's deputy project manager of the Space Servicing Capabilities Project. "If this works out, whenever a satellite goes through this process, not only will it be refueled, it will also be modified so that now it can be refueled more readily."
If the system works successfully (fingers crossed) the first real mission to repair a satellite that needs fuel will take in place in May 2013, NASA officials said. This wouldn’t just be a test flight as a weather satellite needs to be taken down during the flight. Jamie Epstein is a SDNzone Web Editor. Previously she interned at News 12 Long Island as a reporter's assistant. After working as an administrative assistant for a year, she joined TMC as a Web editor for SDNzone. Jamie grew up on the North Shore of Long Island and holds a bachelor's degree in mass communication with a concentration in broadcasting from Five Towns College. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Rich Steeves