NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission is scheduled to travel to the international space station in late June aboard STS-135, the last planned flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, according to Frank Cepollina, deputy associate director for the Space Services Capabilities Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The Robotic Refueling Mission, developed by NASA Goddard engineers, is the first step in an effort to demonstrate the utility of robots to perform in-orbit satellite refueling.
For this experiment, NASA plans to equip the space station’s two-armed Canadian robot, Dextre, with special tools to enable it to cut through the exterior, insulation and wiring of a mock spacecraft. The mock spacecraft, which was built last year at NASA Goddard, will be bolted to an Express Logistics Carrier, a platform attached to the space station exterior. Once the equipment is in place, Dextre will be directed by astronauts on the ground to hook up a hose to the satellite and pump in hydrazine. NASA officials declined to comment on the schedule for the refueling experiments.
In the future, NASA Goddard officials hope to demonstrate that satellite refueling can be done autonomously. Dextre was developed for the Canadian Space Agency by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the Richmond, British Columbia-based firm that announced in March it had signed satellite fleet operator Intelsat as the anchor customer for an in-orbit refueling service that could debut as soon as 2015. Intelsat has agreed to purchase about half of the 2,000 kilograms of fuel to be carried on the Space Infrastructure Service vehicle’s inaugural flight.
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