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.
After years of planning, Canadian company MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) announced it is building the first space gas station, with plans for a 2015 launch. The Space Infrastructure Servicing vehicle will fly in geosynchronous orbit, where it can reach several key commercial and government satellites. It will be able to bring them extra fuel as well as reposition them or perform basic maintenance, according to MDA.
The communications satellite company Intelsat, which has the most geosynchronous satellites, will be the first client.
The SIS will launch with a full tank, along with a robotic arm and a tool set to perform basic satellite maintenance. The arm will help the gas station grab other satellites for refueling, but it could also be used as a mechanic, for instance pulling open a jammed solar array.
It could even serve as a tow satellite, moving other spacecraft into a high-orbit graveyard zone or bringing them low enough to reenter the atmosphere and break up.
Most satellites use solar power, but they still need small amounts of fuel like hydrazine to adjust their orbits. The SIS will carry a big tank, but it will only be able to fill up about a dozen satellites before it will need to be replenished. As this video explains, it will move to a polar orbit and a small launch vehicle will rendezvous with it, like a tanker truck filling a gas station.
An orbiting gas station is not a new concept — MDA outlined its plans last year, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has done it before, with the 2007 Orbital Express mission. Two robotic spacecraft met and transferred fuel in orbit, using a robotic arm made by MDA. But that involved two spacecraft designed to dock together; the SIS will have to pair up with a wide range of satellite fuel tanks.
MDA and Intelsat will start building the satellite in the next six months, and the first space refueling will take place about four years from now.
[via Space Ref]
Now we just need a gas station satellite to fill up the gas station satellite.
Put that bandage on that gaping wound, it'll work.
"Most satellites use solar power, but they still need small amounts of fuel like hydrazine to adjust their orbits. The SIS will carry a big tank, but it will only be able to fill up about a dozen satellites before it will need to be replenished"
Try not to think too much, CodeZero. You might get a hemorrhoid.
CokeZero, why you gotta bring us down all the time?
The space industrialization continues! The future must be around the corner.
Ok Greg_NJ, so after it refuels a dozen or so satellites, what then? The refueler will then need to be refueled right?
Thefty (nice name btw.. Theft, that's just great) Some ideas are great, some are not. This one, not so much. How much money, time, effort, resources, extra waste is being created/wasted for to extend a mere 12 or so satellites? NASA's recent operations in automated space travel can be tapped for refueling missions, I'm sure with some considerable ease. And NASA's craft is re-usable whereas the craft in this article is not.
So my previous comment stands.
CodeZero - If you watched the video, you would see it says that once the servicer has run out of fuel itself, another full tank will be sent up. Each tank holds enough fuel to refill a dozen or more satellites, providing 40 years of communications satellite extensions, worth hundreds of millions of dollars possibly. If the demand is greater, more servicers will be built and sent up. The servicer will also be able to fix busted satellites, or tow them to a graveyard slot once they are past their useful life. BTW, NASA's recent operations in automated space travel are meant to replace the Shuttle which is to be mothballed this summer. NASA still needs a vehicle to transfer cargo, and eventually astronauts, back and forth from earth to the International Space Station, so they are working with the private sector to design a specific spacecraft which will go to the ISS, which is 300 kms above earth, not to GEO satellites, which are 36,000 kms above earth. So it is a first-of-a-kind thing that was announced.
jacksmom.. I never said NASA's craft *WAS* designed to do what this satellite is. I said it could be "tapped" to do it. And as far as what NASA's plans for their craft, that's all guarded secrets, not sure how you know exactly what it's uses are / will be. We can speculate sure. Heck, those 2 nifty robonauts that have been in the news recently could be used in conjunction with the unmanned craft to do just what the above satellite is designed to do. And they all already exist in reuseable forms. Putting more and more craft into space to move and refuel each other without ensuring that said craft is as close to 100% resuable as possible is just making the problem worse, not better.
I don't quite think the technology is there to put reusable spacecrafts up to 36,000 kms above earth. Agree that should be the goal. But technology often works by incremental change, so the fact that this company thinks it can put a spacecraft up to refuel existing satellites, allowing them to work longer, why knock it? It could also be used to knock space junk out of orbit, which is also a good thing. You might know that MDA already has sophisticated robots on the ISS - Canadarm2 and Dextre - so it's pretty well placed to do this type of novel job.
CodeZero - How can you not see the benefit of this? A dozen refueled satellites are certainly better than a dozen piles of space junk.
cokeheadzeroforbrains, go get bent and don't come back, trolling fu#k
wow drchuck1... I highly doubt you are a doctor of anything. My initial comment about needing yet another craft to fuel this craft is 100% true, and it's stated in the video that there will need to be a craft to fill up the "gas station" satellite. But the bigger picture seems to ellude some of you. The larger "space junk" isn't the biggest concern, it's the smaller ones that NORAD can't/doesn't track. We are now putting up an unsheilded tank full of 12 satellites (plus it's own) worth of fuel, all it takes now is 1 1cm sized chunk of whatever to puncture that tank during a refueling or servicing mission and then we'll have a MUCH bigger issue.
Is keeping existing satellites operational longer a good idea, sure, I never said it wasn't. However I did say that there are better ways of doing this.
Now, as I have not reduced myself to the level of name calling, nor have I personally attacked anyone, in any sort of fashion, I am not trolling. Having a debate over the functionality or operational capability of a proposed project is also not trolling.
I have noticed the word troll being used incorrectly on this site. Please let me explain:
"a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."
So, as my comments are all on topic, not inflammatory or extraneous, nor are directed to cause anyone into an emotional response. I have not, as you claim, been trolling.
yup, the dr thing is a joke among friends, your still trolling, repeating obvious info the article already mentioned...once again, one launch to refuel 12 satelites is much better than 12 launches to replace said satelites, duh...and one launch to refuel the service station satelite to refuel 12 more, ect.,ect., ect...you are on here fairly regularly with your negative comments about everything under the sun, enough already
One man's Negative, is another man's reality check. Life is about pro's and con's. I removed my rose colored glasses a long time ago.
And yes, the idea is "ok" however there are MUCH better ways of getting the same thing done with less waste.
Single Stage to Orbit reuseable craft designed with refilling / repair / orbit adjustment is a much cleaner plan all around.
you are a shining example of a know it all who knows little...you think you are the only one who thought of that?...very difficult, will be done one day, but until then ,refuel and save what we have already in orbit, much better than abandoning them, you are a waste of time
Nifty article with comments sidelined by a total troll comment. The initial comment by Codezero is an obvious one, AND one thats taken care of in the article itself.
"As this video explains, it will move to a polar orbit and a small launch vehicle will rendezvous with it, like a tanker truck filling a gas station."
That refilling vehicle would be a smaller, less complex, and therefore cheaper craft then the proposed fuel station satellite.
The argument over space junk is also under-informed. Yes in orbit you have to worry about small untracked high speed particles. Unfortunately those particles dont just aim for the shiny new satellites and space stations. They also happen to hit old space junk, and larger targets are more likely to be hit. Each one of those collisions produce more small, high speed, untrackable objects. So the cheapest, easiest, and currently most practical way to deal with current and future space junk is to start from the large and work your way down.