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.
The proposal grew out of a $20 million study that seeks to examine lessons from the five past Hubble-servicing missions, as well as earlier plans for a possible robotic mission to service Hubble. Such an effort might not only pave the way for orbital gas stations, but also test the robotic installation of new instruments or even orbital spacecraft assembly.
"We've already developed a prototype tool that's pretty cool that can cut through the external skin or insulation on the satellite, snip the safety wire on the cap on the fuel valve, attach the hose and turn the valve and transfer the fuel into the vehicle," said Preston Burch, the Hubble program manager, during a Jan. 11 announcement.
Funding for the study does not cover an actual flight test to the space station that would allow the testing to take place. But NASA may very well spring for the mission, even if it remains unsure of extending the space station's life beyond 2016. A final report on the study is slated for presentation before Congress in September.
Successful robotic refueling could go a long way toward extending the life of current satellites or spacecraft missions. But we're really looking forward to the in-flight refueling for colony ships on the way to Mars or other star systems.
[via Aviation Week]
The interesting part of this will be refuelling a sattellite in space, that was not designed to be refueled. Any "Colony ship" or Mars mission would be designed for refuelling if called for.
More interesting would be some fabrication in space, maybe some robotic welding, maybe a form of MIG, although you mayn ot need an inert gas in a vacuum.
Other suggestion would be panel assembly, fill the shuttle hold with precurved sections of panel, all nested inside each other, then use the arm to slot them together into a hab module
September? You got to be kidding me, the longer they wait, the more time and money is wasted. Literally billions.
hi guys: they should talk to air conditioning people they have a self taping fitting for air conditioners that's been around for decades, put a quick coupler on it and once you cut through the hull and insulation, find the right line it would be a breeze to refill some thing. Also you only need the inert gas in welding to keep the bad gasses (ie. o2) away from your weld so it doesn't contaminate the weld and set up rust or a stress bubble