Robotic Refueling Mission Put Through Paces

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Video courtesy of NASA 

One of the more understated components of the final shuttle mission is taking center stage. The Robotic Refueling Mission, or “RMM,” is being readied to test out procedures that could prolong the life of satellites far beyond their initial warrantees—and revolutionize how the world views and uses satellites.

Controllers from both NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will use the space station’s Dextre robot to simulate robotic refueling in space. The tests started Jan. 14 and are scheduled to last through Jan. 24.

In this NASA illustration, the refueling demo is underway at the International Space Station with the Robotic Refueling Mission’s Multifunction Tool removing a cap from the RRM module and proving out the concept of repair and refueling missions to defunct satellites on orbit. Image Credit: NASA

In this NASA illustration, the refueling demo is under way at the International Space Station with the Robotic Refueling Mission’s Multifunction Tool removing a cap from the RRM module and proving out the concept of repair and refueling missions to defunct satellites on orbit. Image Credit: NASA

Controlling Dextre from the ground will be a complex affair that will require wires to be cut, caps to be unscrewed, and a fuel stimulant to be transferred to the “satellite.” The RRM module as well as four unique tools will be used to demonstrate that space-borne robots can be directed by controllers hundreds or even thousands of miles below on the ground.

These controllers would direct the robotic repairmen to mend ailing satellites, or to open their triple-sealed valves and replenish their exhausted fuel reserves.

The dividends of the research done to test out the RMM could also serve to help make the space environment one far safer for current and future spacecraft. With the need for fewer satellites on orbit, less debris (a problem that has increased in recent years) will be created, decreasing the chance of a disastrous orbital impact.

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Video courtesy of NASA

First, the viability of the process the RMM would employ needs to be validated. Those spacecraft currently on orbit were never intended to be retrofitted or refueled. Researchers working on the RMM project have studied how to do this while these spacecraft arc high over head.

If the RMM team manages to prove that the feat of repairing and/or refueling a satellite in geosynchronous orbit can be conducted, it would be far less expensive than launching replacement satellites atop expensive rockets. In short, this project could potentially save billions of dollars, create a safer and cleaner space environment in Earth’s orbit, and serve to make the process by which we utilize and process spacecraft far more efficient.

In this NASA photo, spacewalkers Mike Fossum and Ron Garan deliver the Robotic Refueling Mission from Atlantis’ payload bay to a temporary platform on the International Space Station’s Dextre robot. Photo Credit: NASA

In this NASA photo, spacewalkers Mike Fossum and Ron Garan deliver the Robotic Refueling Mission from Atlantis’ payload bay to a temporary platform on the International Space Station’s Dextre robot. Photo Credit: NASA

 

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