Friday, January 11, 2013

Robotic Refueling in Space

Later this month NASA is scheduled to undertake something really cool, it will attempt its first in-orbit Robotic refueling & servicing of the ISS. This is actually a joint effort between the Canadian Space Agency & NASA and this test will be the first time Dextre the Robot is used for technology R&D. The tests are expected to run a duration of two years and may energize our thoughts about many possibilities in space.

Currently satellites cost a great deal of money for all to short of a lifespan. While their life could be extended ‘we’ have lacked the ability to repair them. Dextre the Robot is expected to show use that is the past. Communications Satellites or ships in space, all will benefit from a Dextre.

Dextre’s capabilities are with pre-set tasks and a remote control. (Above his arm is pictured replacing a refueling cap.) When a satellite is launched it is fueled first and then the valve that would be used in refueling a triple sealed, then covered in thermal blankets, never to be opened again. But what if these satellites could be refueled in space? This particular task is one that Dextre is familiar with. Certain servicing that are mundane in nature (ie. Like an oil change or spark plug change here on Earth!) still are need to be done.

What other benefits are there? The initial mass of a payload – be it a satellite or something space bound, could be lessened. Decreasing the payload mass means decreasing the cost to send it up and the rocket power needed. The implications of this Robot Dextre are endless between what can be envisioned and what hasn’t been thought of as yet.

Picture the day; we have ventured ahead in space. Picture the gas stations or floating cities that might allow the crew to enjoy a break while the Robotic Refueling & Servicing takes place. I am getting ahead of myself but NASA & the Canadian Space Agency are taking that first step that will get us there. But first they’ll have more immediate benefits to satellites of all kinds. GPS, Communications, Weather…and the list goes on!

Other benefits? Radiation has always been a concern in the discussion of prolonged space travel. What if these robots could do most of the outside work? What if they could allow the Astronauts to stay inside where it was safer?

Every action leads to something so much bigger. NASA works on hundreds of things that at the surface seem unrelated, but if you step back and look again you will realize that all of it furthers mankind’s ability to survive in space and yet always has an immediate benefit to Earth bound technologies and spin off technologies.

Way to go NASA! (And Canada!)

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