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NASA Developing Robotic Satellite Refueling System

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the fill-it-up dept.

NASA 30

coondoggie (973519) writes "Refueling aging satellites that were never meant to be refueled is the goal with a emerging NASA system that could save millions. NASA this week said since April 2011, engineers have been working to build robotic satellite servicing technologies necessary to bring in-orbit inspection, repair, refueling, component replacement and assembly capabilities to spacecraft needing aid."

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productize (1)

alex4u2nv (869827) | about 5 months ago | (#46894609)

Nice, when can we productize this and have those robots refuel our cars while we drive?

Re:productize (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 4 months ago | (#46896185)

Just as soon as we start driving in orbit.

There we go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46894621)

New technologies mean we don't need people up there.

Re:There we go (2)

jonyen (2633919) | about 5 months ago | (#46894893)

HAL: "I can't allow you to go up there, Dave."

Re:There we go (3, Informative)

TrippTDF (513419) | about 5 months ago | (#46894895)

We kind of don't need people up there.... yet. Putting a person in space is still really hard and expensive. However, if we can have robotics lead the way, and create good space infrastructure, then maybe it will become easier down the road.

Re:There we go (2)

NIK282000 (737852) | about 4 months ago | (#46896169)

Much the same way that you colonize a planet, you let robots do the ground work and move in once the wifi is set up. Its not economical to make people work in any hazardous environment if the robots have free electricity a la Sol. Let Branson build a orbital skydiving resort up there if he wants, the quicker we get construction robots in space the quicker the rest of us can move up there.

Re:There we go (2)

sgt scrub (869860) | about 4 months ago | (#46896775)

What if the robots get settled in then don't let us follow? Will there be a war?

Image looks like Wall-E (1)

retroworks (652802) | about 5 months ago | (#46894633)

And the concept, that robots and satellites especially, could continue their work, after Earth flames out, is animating.

Re: Image looks like Wall-E (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46894771)

Pixar should do a movie on this

FRISt STHOP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46894681)

Finally! (2)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 5 months ago | (#46894709)

NASA is in charge of our Robotic OVERlords!!

Re:Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46895265)

Yes but they are much more understanding of muslims now and since we took away their funding and turned them into a mix of political diaper wearing beureacrats, they seem to blow less shit up now.

gaming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46895125)

Huh, I was planning to do this exact same thing in Kerbal Space Program tonight!

Conveniently Glazed Over Usability (1)

SavSoul (669561) | about 4 months ago | (#46895309)

It's fantastic that you can get that mileage in a car that is inconvenient, small, terrible range. BMW didn't win anything other than an aerodynamics and weight contest. I saw a Tesla Model S competing quite well on the 1/4 mile against Porche, Audi, and.. yeah It smoked a BMW M3 (I am assuming due to driver error). The key was it was quite a capable machine that after a full day of racing drove home and got 75 MPG on the freeway back to the drivers house.

Re:Conveniently Glazed Over Usability (2)

SavSoul (669561) | about 4 months ago | (#46895347)

how did this happen.... thanks beta...

Re:Conveniently Glazed Over Usability (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46899937)

I think you are confused, Tesla isn't owned by NASA. NASA contracts out to SpaceX which is owned by Elon Musk who also owns Tesla.

Clamp-O-Tron (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 4 months ago | (#46895479)

This is why I put at least a Clamp-O-Tron Jr. on everything I launch.

Life is presently too precious in Western Culture (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 4 months ago | (#46895687)

A nation that is willing to think will be doing space exploration autonomously.

Losing machinery is normally a zero PR problem,

and the absence of cumbersome life support and resupplying issues make present day unmanned-missions the smart bet.

Comfortable Commerce Culture undervalues LIFE. (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 4 months ago | (#46897295)

A nation that is willing to think will be doing space exploration autonomously.
Losing machinery is normally a zero PR problem,

Zero Compared to what? Despite their small stature, lots of folks do care if rovers die. Really though, you're thinking far too small: How much of a "PR problem" will it be to have to tell everyone that they are the last generation of humanity? Thinking doesn't describe the action I'm largely observing. Yes, you'll need autonomous systems, who wouldn't, but I wouldn't call visiting landmarks in Google Earth a vacation, and I wouldn't call doing the same while sitting on your ass in a control room "exploration". I surely wouldn't call replacing a battery on a satellite "space exploration" either. That would be like saying "reaching for the TV remote" was an "adventurous excursion". On your typical basket-ball sized globe, your atmosphere is as thick as the lacquer, and the ISS is a finger width from the surface. You've been there, and done the shit out of that. At the moon's size ratio of 3.7 it would be about the size of a tennis ball and in the next room over, 7.3m (24ft) away, and You Haven't Been to The Next Room in Over Four Decades! That's not exploration, it's a failure to launch and retreating back to mom's garage instead. Oh, the current space programs are not nothing; They're "something" alright, but you should call it "space investigation" because you know what real explorers can make? Real live Fucking Settlements.

and the absence of cumbersome life support and resupplying issues make present day unmanned-missions the smart bet.

Maybe, if you had sentient machines. If you don't then it's mathematically verifiable as one of the dumbest bets you can make -- It just boggles the mind given any inkling as to the reality of your situation -- I know you know what complexity is, you can count neurons, right? Buck protocol, I don't even care anymore. Look: You've got to get your fucks out of the magnetosphere and start discovering how to survive beyond your parent system's gravity basement. Any sentient species would make priority #0 reducing your current 100% probability of extinction. Screw super volcanoes, asteroids, comets, and other thermo-ballistic threats: You've got next to no defense from energy weapons, and the Universe really is out to kill you!

You think the comparatively marginal price justifies taking your chances on sub-sentient, non replicating golems? You spend more resources on entertainment alone, to say nothing of wars to prop up petty petroleum productions; Hell just air conditioning the US troops consumes more resources than the whole budget of NASA, and you talk of COSTS?! That word must mean something very different to you. Perhaps if you did have sentient machines, or even mechanical procreation, then maybe they'd gladly carry at least the memory of humanity's creative spark and exploratory drive to the stars for you; However, do you really want to risk this system's gorgeous and wonderful variety of organic life disappearing just because you... well... what?! There's NO reason at all! What bloody barrier is there? The homeless? The hungry? Oh those are just problems you like to talk about; You're not really trying to help them. Every technology you'll need for growing up and leaving the planetary nest will also vastly improve the state of things back at your parent's place.

It really is because of laziness, no really, it is. This is the one time you just can't blame the government bureaucracy: You get to deduct charitable donations from taxes. Do you see? That means you basically get to control where a large portion of your government tax money goes directly. Rather than pay the tax man, divert those resources into something beneficial -- But what could be a good cause? Oh, something that will help all (known) life, maybe something like saving all the fucking Earth. So, if you aren't doing that, it's the fault of every damn one of you for not making a transaction and filling out a fucking form. You get no sympathy from me.

100 years of life is nothing. Is it because the "rich" have it good enough? You can't even DREAM of how much better you could have it? Who wouldn't spend one of those measly morsels of existence on a ticket to the greatest adventure your race will ever undertake in the service of literally saving the planet? Exploration is dangerous, but it's certainly worth exploding over, just ask any astronaut, explorer, or test pilot. Remember the Challenger Crew? Well, you're on a space ship right now, and NO ONE is piloting it! All of your eggs are in one basket and the basket is being whipped around haphazardly by your suicidal sun -- Fortunately it's got a firm grip and seems to have been pretty well tempered of late, but we both know that won't always be the case.

You're living on mountains of borrowed time already! You're 400,000 years Overdue for a mag-field tear down and rebuild. The way things are going, it really could happen any day now. Given the current "exceptional" behavior, once the EM organization is dissolved you have know idea how long you'll be extremely vulnerable to cosmic radiation, CME's and gamma ray bursts which could punch through even with the shield at full strength. The geomagneto cycles at about 400,000 of your earth years on average; Yet, as soon as life on your planet shows signs of intelligence it goes 800,000 years without a standard 5,000 year restoration period? Can you even GUESS how much energy it takes to maintain your planetary dynamo at full functionality for even twice its natural duty cycle?! Do you even appreciate the amazing "luck" you're having?! During the reorganization interim the cosmic shield generator operates at emergency power levels of around 5%! You're smart enough to take responsibility for the planet, and there's no budget for another super chon. Either get your ass to Mars, or you better grow some damn gills, people! Without the land species the amniotic life swimming in your planetary placenta has maybe a couple billion years more, but the aquatic environment is too enjoyable to need much more intelligence than it takes to play with bubbles in the bath; So, unfortunately, the world's fate really does rest on your shoulders.

I agree that life is too damn precious to just kick back on the sofa and flirt with extinction while mentally masturbating audiovisually. You've got cocking rockets, so now is your chance to save the mother loving world! You don't get a second chance. Individual lives aren't valued too greatly, almost everyone among you agrees life pretty much sucks! It's just abject apathy and complacency from where I see it. Damn it all! I just Knew Chelyabinsk should have touched down, but NoooOOO! "Surely an unexpected explosion ~25 times that of Hiroshima will get them motivated." Bullshit. They don't know humans very well, do they? I'm the one that has to deal with these salinated sacks of star soot every damn day, but Nobody Listens to ME! Well, to their credit, I wouldn't expect anyone else to fathom the depths of this disenlightenment black-hole unless they'd crossed Earth's event horizon and seen it for themselves. You appear to be self aware, but I've had to invent a new branch of mathematics to explain the dimension of cognitive dissonance your literal ignorance exists within!

The Andromeda Merger has been given the go-ahead, and extra-solar survival will be a cake walk comparatively, so you had better get your asses in gear. You're so smegging close, just reach for the next rung and it's yours! I swear, if you spunk this shot up by dicking around with shitty little investigation rovers and probes instead of building self sustaining outposts it'll be the greatest tragedy I've ever witnessed. And I've watched deterministic systems deliver jokes!

meant to be refueled (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 4 months ago | (#46895885)

How will they manage satellite "meant to be refueled". If there is no accessible opening to inject fuel, that seems difficult. Are they going to unscrew or unbolt parts?

Re:meant to be refueled (1)

PPH (736903) | about 4 months ago | (#46896087)

never meant to be refueled

FTFY.

Remember the mission to repair Hubble? [wikipedia.org] Where the hand rail bolts got stuck and they had to break it off? Good luck getting a robot to figure that out.

I can see robotic refueling working if the satellite is designed for it. Like aerial refueling with a purpose-built port and valves. Not if the robot needs to be a shade-tree mechanic.

Re:meant to be refueled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46896837)

Oh my God, how will we ever figure out remote control technology!? The same site that gets erections over robotic surgery over the Web also thinks it's vitally important to send test pilots in rubber pants to unscrew bolts in person! Grow up. Your comic book future ain't happening.

Re:meant to be refueled (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46898115)

gp did not suggest sending astronauts. he simply doubted that a robot could do it. that seems plausable since robots tend to be pretty inflexible.

Re:meant to be refueled (1)

PPH (736903) | about 4 months ago | (#46899567)

That's my point. You can certainly train a robot to break a handle off in a repeatable manner. But something like telepresence (used for 'robotic' surgery) would be needed to improvise such a move on the fly. That works OK on the ground, with millisecond communications latency but perhaps not so well to geosynchronous orbits.

Re:meant to be refueled (1)

Lotana (842533) | about 4 months ago | (#46897269)

If I remember correctly, one of the primary design purposes of the Shuttle was to retrieve satellites from orbit.

Apparently this requirement was so rare, that it hardly ever flew just for this reason.

Always works out this way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46896521)

These are the missions the shuttle was designed for, so it is somewhat ironic that the shuttle is retired just as the first generations of truly expensive (and capable) satellites are entering their old age. The shuttle's design came from demands by the US military; they wanted a vehicle that could take a team into space and capture Soviet satellites. It's why a second, complete shuttle launch facility was built by the military, but never used.

Outside this mission, the shuttle makes little sense. It's horribly inefficient at putting satellites into space, because of all the humans aboard. There was no space station to resupply and ferry astronauts to when the shuttle started flying: Skylab went down in '79, and the first shuttle flight wasn't until '81. Conducting experiments in space as a science platform? Don't make me laugh. It's not up there long enough and it's not big enough.

But the shuttle is the perfect size for a satellite capture team, and it proved adept at that mission with service trips to multiple satellites; the shuttle effectively saved the Hubble. It did exceptionally well at exactly what it was designed to do.

Now it looks like we might be entering a golden age of outrageously cheap LEO launch services, when launch costs per kg are already at historic lows. So we're already putting more satellites up every day, and LEO is only going to get busier.

We're reaching the point where shuttle missions to service satellites would actually make sense, just as the shuttle is retired - a vehicle too advanced for its time.

Re:Always works out this way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46896831)

The shuttle only went to LEO... The Shuttle was a boondoggle. This story is about GEO satellites. Now go cry some more about dead and buried Space Age delusions.

Just jerking off (1)

eviljav (68734) | about 4 months ago | (#46897167)

NASA has no heavy lift rockets
NASA has no remotely feasible plans for heavy lift rockets.

This isn't a real plan, this is just NASA jerking off.

Re:Just jerking off (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 4 months ago | (#46897197)

NASA has no heavy lift rockets.

France has.

They are quite happy to let NASA buy a launch on an Ariane 5. It'll do twenty-one tons to LEO.

The PTR Group (1)

wmlavender (1466699) | about 4 months ago | (#46902281)

One of the companies involved in this refueling effort [theptrgroup.com] is the PTR Group. Their chief scientist, Mike Anderson, gave several very interesting presentations at the Embedded Linux Conference / Android Builders Summit earlier this week. Although his presentations were not directly related to the satellite servicing mission, he did say that they are involved in an effort to try and refuel a geostationary weather satellite before the end of this year.
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