When a satellite runs out of fuel, there are really only a couple options: Quietly become a piece of space junk, or fall back to Earth in a blaze of glory. But a new space gas station will fill ‘em up, ensuring satellites can keep on trucking and preventing the proliferation of orbiting garbage.
In a recent test of autonomous in-flight refueling, two unmanned aircraft flew within 40 feet of each other at an altitude of 45,000 feet, an aviation record. A Northrop Grumman Proteus test aircraft crept up on a NASA Global Hawk, testing wake turbulence and engine performance in the stratosphere. The test is a step toward teams of drones flying in formation, for refueling or other purposes.
NASA's bold repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope has inspired engineers to tackle another challenge -- using the robotic arm on the International Space Station to refuel a satellite. Aviation Week reports that the Canadian "Dextre" arm could use a special tool to cut into a spacecraft that was never designed to be refueled, pierce the insulation, and access the fuel plumbing.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.