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ISS NASA Space Science Technology

Robotic Refueling Experiment Set Up On Space Station 36

coondoggie writes "The idea that the International Space Station could be used as a port-of-call for passing satellites that need fuel or repairs took one step closer to reality as NASA astronauts set up the robotic experiment in orbit today. The Robotic Refueling Mission structure will ultimately be attached to the ISS' infrastructure. Once up and running, it will show that remote-controlled robots can perform refueling tasks in orbit, using commands sent from controllers on Earth."
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Robotic Refueling Experiment Set Up On Space Station

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  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2011 @07:52PM (#36742888) Journal

    If we're developing satellites that can move to the ISS' orbit, dock with it, be refueled robotically, then go back to their own orbits, why not develop a robotic fueling station so we don't have to put right next to the ISS a giant ball of fuel (whether combustible or pressurized) that attracts every wonky satellite with a taste for juice?

    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      The orbits are wrong, there would be no benefit to attaching the real system to ISS. It would probably actually cost MORE to do it that way.

    • This is cheap to do. Many experiments can be done and the software developed. Keep in mind that it is the FULLY DEBUGGED software that is worth a lot.
    • Because robotic refueling station sounds better -- by which I mean more likely to be funded -- than fueling station for the manned mission to Mars.

    • Exactly the first thought that I had when I saw this.

      Step 1) Install a big gas tank on the ISS
      Step 2) Watch the ISS and ship being refueled turn into a giant fireball due to a glitch
      Step 3) Create the first orbital funeral home
    • Well, the actual plan is develop satellites that can maneuver up to other satellites and fuel them in situ. TFA, as with most science 'journalism' gets it wrong.

    • by FleaPlus ( 6935 )

      The answer for why this needs to be attached to the space station is because it's making use of Dextre, the very large/expensive/awesome robotic arm attached to the ISS. The initial experiments may also likely need a human finely controlling the robotic arm or conducting extra-vehicular activities to set things up. There's some more details in this article [].

      It also wasn't mentioned in the summary, but a big part of why this is so challenging is that the tech is ultimately intended for satellites which weren'

    • Incidentally, that kind of experiment/investment is one of the technologies that Obama's plan for NASA listed. He may not have wanted to invest in another pork-ridden wagon like the space shuttle, but Obama certainly did have his head on straight when he put together his new goals and new vision for NASA. (I should mention, I suspect Obama didn't develop a lot of these goals himself, but, rather, probably had a well-informed advisor guiding him).
  • The space station and the satellites they're talking about don't orbit anywhere near each other. Most satellites are in geostationary orbit much, much higher than the station, which orbits the earth about fifteen times a day.

    Any refuelling station would need an orbit much like the satellites it's supposed to service. That would probably mean launching up a big ol' gas can of a station, by weight mostly fuel, up to geostationary orbit or else ever so slightly higher, and using it to refuel until it itself

    • by v1 ( 525388 )

      Any refuelling station would need an orbit much like the satellites it's supposed to service.

      Refueling satellites isn't a bad start but I thought this was going to be more like refueling fresh from liftoff to a jump to mars or something.

      I wonder if they'll support pay-at-the-pump?

      • Actually, one very likely use for this will be sending a VTVL cargo lifter to the moon as well as Mars. Then we simply send fuel as needed. Later, it will be from the local surfaces.
    • Most satellites are in LEO not in geostationary orbit. And this for 2 good reasons:
      1) It requires much less energy to launch a satellite in LEO and satellite need less power to downlink information to the earth (plus some protection from harmful radiations)
      2) The geostationary orbit is basically a 2 dimensions orbit (circle at ~35km of the earth) and so the number of satellites that can orbit there is really low.

      So the ISS is in the good orbit range for our most used satellites but deorbiting a satellite, r

    • Most satellites are in geostationary orbit much, much higher than the station, which orbits the earth about fifteen times a day.

      Actually, most are in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), the easiest orbit to reach. Also, both GSO (geostationary) and GEO (geosynchronous) orbits have an orbital period of 24 hours (geostationary is a geosynchronous orbit with an inclination of 0deg.), completing a single orbit per day. The end result is that GSO, with an orbital period of 24 hours appears to hover a figure eight pattern (size is dependent on the inclination) over the surface of the Earth while GEO, with an inclination of 0deg, appears to hover over

  • ...small private companies to set up just outside of orbit to squeegie a satellite's solar panels whether they want it or not and expect a few million in change.
    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

      ...small private companies to set up just outside of orbit to squeegie a satellite's solar panels whether they want it or not and expect a few million in change.

      You're doing it wrong, out of work astronauts, displaced by robbie the robot on ISS will hang out on the space corner squeegeeing spy satellite camera lenses for cigarette money. This is why there is no shuttle replacement, ISS will become an automated spy satellite refueling and re-purposing platform.

  • the gas prices are out of this world!
  • Fill up here! Last gas until Alpha Centauri!
  • Ok, so Armadillo passed on their VTVL to NASA and both NASA and armadillo continues to enhance it. What will it gain them? A cargo lifter from earth to about 100 miles up. So, where can that go? To the moon and Mars. However, once there, they will need fuel. How to do it? From space. Originally, all the fuel will come from earth. Once time passes on, then it will come from lunar and martian surface. But not right away. So, auto re-fueling in space is useful for MANY things.
  • It should at least have this capability shouldn't it? It can be in higher orbit on its own but should be able to dock with ISS so we can launch a mission to replace ISS crew and refuel this refueling robot in one mission before it moves back to its original orbit. Seems like that could be an efficient way of running it. If nothing else, it needs to be able to dock with ISS to be repaired and for maintenance surely?
  • What we really need to do, is come up with a fueling station that just requires water & solar (or nuclear) energy,

    input water, use the electricity to split it up into hydrogen and oxygen, compress and cool (using more energy). = conventional rocket fuel.

    id say nuclear power would produce a better fueling station because of the energy density, but that requires replacing the nuclear fuel, and i don't think the government likes the idea of any country rocketing fission material above everyone's head
    • Water is as heavy as fuel. Much cheaper to generate the fuel on earth. This would only make sense sonewhere with a local source of water.

      • that's what i was getting at. if we could get the fueling station to jump on a passing comet or a moon or something, harvest the ice while its already in space and the cost to escape gravity is trivial.
  • The one great thing about space is that once you get there, even low earth orbit, it doesn't take much more fuel to maneuver.

    Setup a few different fuel depots. Have tanker bots shuttle it between orbits. Then have repair robots and their detachable tanks rendezvous with the tankers. A repair boats would consists of at least two robots, a fuel tank and repairing instruments and parts.

    This way is full of redundancy. And as a side benefit broken parts can be ferried to the ISS for repair. Ideally your wou

  • .. especially now that there is no more Space Shuttle

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser