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What is robotic satellite servicing?

asked 2016-05-21 22:08:16 -0600

Spacerobots gravatar image

DARPA has announced the start of a program called Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS). What does this mean for future space activities?

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answered 2016-05-22 21:46:45 -0600

Rob Mueller gravatar image

updated 2016-05-22 22:03:37 -0600

Robotic satellite servicing is also known as "On Orbit Servicing" (OOS) involves re-fueling, repair, upgrades and salvaging of satellites and spacecraft in general that are in Earth's Orbit. There is an orbital belt just above the Geosynchronous orbit altitude that is called the "Graveyard orbit" where spent telecom satellites are typically placed at the end of their life. Many components are salvageable on these disposed satellites and some have just run out of propellants for station keeping. There has been active debate over the past two decades whether there is a real business case for OOS since the fast pace of computer processing technology makes obsolescence a factor (most telecom satellites are designed to operate for 15 years), but a modular approach with line replaceable units (LRU) may be a solution for this aspect of the OOS philosophy.

Another fascinating topic is the salvaging of satellites that have been placed in the wrong orbit due to a launch malfunction. Typically these satellites would then belong to the insurer who may choose to salvage the satellite, repair it and sell it back to the original owner or another customer.

A good report by NASA Goddard Space Flight center is available at:

Executive Summary: In the past two decades, some of the most extraordinary successes in space exploration have emphasized the growing importance of on-orbit servicing. As space explorers, our challenges have moved beyond simply launching complex spacecraft and systems. We are faced with the need to more fully exploit the flight systems already launched, to construct large structures in situ to enable new scientific ventures, and to provide systems that reliably and cost-effectively support the next steps in space exploration. A more refined consciousness of the need to reduce, reuse, and recycle here on Earth drives towards a similar awareness of these needs beyond our planet. The proliferation of abandoned satellites poses known hazards to newer members of the constellation, and may occupy unique and economically valuable orbital real estate that could be recycled for other uses. With the successful completion of a series of Hubble Space Telescope repairs, as well as the assembly of the International Space Station, we can look forward with confidence to plan such a future. Satellite servicing is a tool—a tool that can serve as the “master enabler” to create the architectures needed to conquer the next frontiers in space.

Previous work in Europe can be found here:

Kreisel, Joerg. "On-Orbit Servicing (OOS): Issues & Commercial Implications." 54th International Astronautical Congress, 29th September-3rd October. 2003.

Ellery, Alex, Joerg Kreisel, and Bernd Sommer. "The case for robotic on-orbit servicing of spacecraft: spacecraft reliability is a myth." Acta Astronautica 63.5 (2008): 632-648.

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Asked: 2016-05-21 22:08:16 -0600

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Last updated: May 22 '16

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