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NASA, DARPA look to build orbiting service stations

Dec. 28, 2017

NASA and DARPA are looking to build service stations for satellites. Back in April 2016 I reported on NASA’s Restore-L project, whose goal is to refuel Landsat satellites. Now Christian Davenport in The Washington Post has an update on efforts by NASA, DARPA, and others to extend the life of critical infrastructure in space. He writes, “If successful, the agencies would have fleets of robots with arms and cameras that could inspect, refuel, and repair satellites, keeping them operational well beyond their expected lifetimes.”

He quotes Gordon Roesler, program manager at DARPA, as saying, “Where else do we build something that costs a billion dollars, and then never inspect it, never maintain it, and never repair it? But that’s what we do in space.”

Davenport quotes Richard White, president of SSL Government Systems, which is working with DARPA, “Everything that we now do on Earth we will eventually do on-orbit. The satellite-manufacturing facility of the future could be located in space.”

DARPA is focused on GEO satellites, while NASA is focused on LEO, Davenport reports. Inn addition to SSL Government Systems, private companies working on satellite maintenance include Orbital ATK, which is developing a “mission extension vehicle” that would attach to a satellite and provide propulsion. Davenport reports that the company has Intelsat as a customer and plans a technology demonstration in 2019.

NASA is working with Space Systems Loral on the Restore-L project. Davenport says NASA plans to attempt to refuel Landsat 7, launched in 1999, by 2021. Davenport’s article includes a video of the simulated refueling process.

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