Once NASA gets its super-expensive tech up into space, it’s not easy to repair it. Especially when it’s not something with a human operator nearby (i.e. a satellite). But now, the U.S. space agency is building its own robo geek squad.
NASA has announced plans to create a satellite-repairing robot as part of the Restore-L Spacecraft Bus and Support Services project. The $127 million initiative has been awarded to Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California. The robotic spacecraft will essentially be used to repair, refuel and service satellites while they are in orbit. Basically, tech support. In space.
"Restore-L effectively breaks the paradigm of one-and-done spacecraft" Frank Cepollina, veteran leader of the five crewed servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, said in a statement. "It introduces new ways to robotically manage, upgrade and prolong the lifespans of our costly orbiting national assets. By doing so, Restore-L opens up expanded options for more resilient, efficient and cost-effective operations in space.”
The project is big for a few reasons. Obviously, it will give NASA a way to extend the life of existing and future satellites, which are currently limited by the amount of fuel that can be packed onboard at launch (and can be sidelined by any manner of tech problems while in space). The project also establishes a precedent for robotic, space-based repairs. If we want to eventually live in a world of space ships and space stations, we’ll need this tech down the line.