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Waspie_Dwarf

NASA's Robotic Refueling Demo On ISS

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NASA's Robotic Refueling Demo Set to Jumpstart Expanded Capabilities in Space

In mid-January, NASA will take the next step in advancing robotic satellite-servicing technologies as it tests the Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM aboard the International Space Station. The investigation may one day substantially impact the many satellites that deliver products Americans rely upon daily, such as weather reports, cell phones and television news.

During five days of operations, controllers from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency will use the space station's remotely operated Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, robot to simulate robotic refueling in space. Operating a space-based robotic arm from the ground is a feat on its own, but NASA will do more than just robotics work as controllers remotely snip wires, unscrew caps and transfer simulated fuel. The team also will demonstrate tools, technologies and techniques that could one day make satellites in space greener, more robust and more capable of delivering essential services to people on Earth.

Why Fix or Refuel a Satellite?

"Every satellite has a lifespan and eventual retirement date, determined by the reliability of its components and how much fuel it can carry," explains Benjamin Reed, deputy project manager of NASA's Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, or SSCO.

Repairing and refueling satellites already in place, Reed asserts, can be far less expensive than building and launching entirely new spacecraft, potentially saving millions, even billions of dollars and many years of work.

The RRM demonstration specifically tests what it would take to repair and refuel satellites traveling the busy space highway of geosynchronous Earth orbit, or GEO. Located about 22,000 miles above Earth, this orbital path is home to more than 400 satellites, many of which beam communications, television and weather data to customers worldwide.

By developing robotic capabilities to repair and refuel GEO satellites, NASA hopes to add precious years of functional life to satellites and expand options for operators who face unexpected emergencies, tougher economic demands and aging fleets. NASA also hopes that these new technologies will help boost the commercial satellite-servicing industry that is rapidly gaining momentum.

Besides aiding the GEO satellite community, a capability to fix and relocate "ailing" satellites also could help manage the growing orbital debris problem that threatens continued space operations, ultimately making space greener and more sustainable.

How RRM Is Making a Difference

Built by SSCO in the span of 18 months, the washing-machine-sized RRM module contains the components, activity boards and tools to practice several of the tasks that would be performed in orbit during a real servicing mission. Launched to the space station on July 8, 2011, aboard the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program, RRM was the last payload an astronaut ever removed from a shuttle.

In 2012, RRM demonstrated dexterous robotic operations in space. Dextre's 12-foot arm and accompanying RRM tool successfully snipped two twisted wires -- each the thickness of two sheets of paper -- with only a few millimeters of clearance: a task essential to the satellite refueling process.

The RRM refueling demonstration on Jan. 14-24 will employ the Canadian-built Dextre, NASA's RRM module and four unique RRM tools to show that space robots controlled from Earth -- hundreds or even thousands of miles below -- can transfer fuel to satellites with triple-sealed valves that were never designed to be accessed.

"The RRM operations team is very excited about the upcoming refueling demonstration," says Charlie Bacon, RRM operations manager. "Over the last two years, the team has put in more than 300 hours of preparation -- reviewing procedures, running simulations, and communicating with team members from other NASA centers and our international partners. When we finally execute the namesake task of RRM, we anticipate that our work will culminate in proving that in-orbit satellite refueling is no longer future technology -- it's current technology."

Although the RRM module will never fix or refuel a satellite itself, its advanced tools and practice runs are laying the foundation for future in-orbit robotic servicing missions. Additional RRM demonstrations will continue into 2013, with a new round of servicing task boards, tools and activities slated to continue its investigations through 2015.

What's Next in Robotic Satellite Servicing?

The satellite-servicing concept that RRM is advancing is one that NASA has been developing for years. Beginning with the Solar Maximum repair mission in 1984, the servicing philosophy paved the way for five successful astronaut-based missions to upgrade and repair the Hubble Space Telescope and has been practiced more recently in spacewalks to assemble and maintain the space station.

With the RRM on the space station and a robust technology development campaign being conducted on the ground, NASA is testing capabilities for a new robotic servicing frontier. Since 2009, the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has been aggressively advancing the robotic technologies for a free-flying servicer spacecraft that could access, repair and refuel satellites in GEO.

To this end, the SSCO team has been studying a conceptual servicing mission and building technologies to address uncharted territory such as autonomous rendezvous and docking, propellant transfer systems for zero gravity and specialized algorithms (computer commands) to orchestrate and synchronize satellite-servicing operations. A systems engineering review on this conceptual mission was recently conducted with positive responses from peer experts and external participants.

Reed and the SSCO team see many applications across NASA for these new, game-changing capabilities.

"The technologies we're building to help rescue satellites in five years could be the very same ones used to clean up space ten years in the future or save a spacecraft on the way to Mars 30 years from now," says Reed. "NASA is acting today to ensure that we have the capabilities America needs for the future. With satellite servicing technologies, we're bolstering the agency's long-term strategy as we invest in near-term tactical technology investments. RRM is just the beginning."

by Adrienne Alessandro

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Edited by Waspie_Dwarf
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Robotic Refueling Mission: Day 1

› Download video in HD formats

Robotic refueling is challenging. Before a satellite leaves the ground, technicians fill its fuel tank through a valve that's then triple-sealed and covered with a protective blanket, designed never to be accessed again. RRM paves the way for a future robotic servicing mission by demonstrating that a remote-controlled robot can overcome these obstacles to service and refuel a satellite on orbit.

On Jan. 14, 2013, NASA engineers put a robot to work outside the International Space Station to test some of these capabilities

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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Robotic Refueling Mission: The Main Event

The prospect of robots in space tantalizes NASA engineers with extraordinary possibility. Powerful and sophisticated, these tools may be able to extend the working lives of aging spacecraft, something that would profoundly change the way we manage expensive flight hardware. The Robotic Refueling Mission tests this proposition with a battery of demonstrations, culminating in the marquee event. This video takes a look at the progress made through proof-of-concept testing aboard the International Space Station in January 2013.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

› Download video in HD formats

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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Thanks very much for this; wonderful stuff.

May I perhaps tap your perceived expertise to comment on the old idea of avoiding the need and expense of rockets by building elevators to take stuff (I understand the radiation danger of moving so slowly through the Van Allen belts, so probably not people) into space? Is anyone looking at it? What sort of improvements in materials strengths would be needed?

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NASA's Successful Robotic Refueling Demo Points To a Bright Satellite-Servicing Future

Following six historic days of operations aboard the International Space Station, NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM, demonstrated remotely controlled robots using current-day technology could refuel satellites not designed to be serviced.

RRM tests from January 14-25 culminated in a first-of-its-kind robotic fluid transfer, a demonstration that could be a catalyst to expanded robotic satellite-servicing capabilities and lead to a greener, more sustainable space. NASA also hopes that RRM technologies may help boost the commercial satellite-servicing industry.

"RRM gives NASA and the emerging commercial satellite servicing industry the confidence to robotically refuel, repair and maintain satellites in both near and distant orbits -- well beyond the reach of where humans can go today," said Frank Cepollina, associate director of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, or SSCO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

New Technologies for a New Industry

Since 2009, SSCO has aggressively advanced robotic technologies for a notional, free-flying, servicer spacecraft that could access, repair and refuel satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit, or GEO. RRM is a critical part of this technology development campaign.

"RRM allows us to take a major step into the future -- a future where humans and machines can together take on greatly expanded roles in space capability, research and exploration," Cepollina said.

Veterans of five manned servicing missions to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Cepollina and the SSCO team conceived the idea of RRM and saw it through its rapid 18-month development to its July 2011 launch on STS-135, the last space shuttle mission. A joint effort with the Canadian Space Agency, RRM uses the space station as test bed for the research and development of robotic satellite-servicing capabilities.

The cutting-edge technologies RRM demonstrates could extend the lives of many of the hundreds of satellites currently in GEO. These assets deliver such essential services as weather reports, cell phone communications, television broadcasts, government communications and air traffic management.

Servicing capabilities could greatly expand options for government and commercial fleet operators in the future, potentially delivering stakeholders significant savings in spacecraft replacement and launch costs.

RRM: A First-of-Its-Kind Refueling

The January RRM activities employed the teleoperated Canadian Dextre robot, four sophisticated RRM tools and the washing-machine-sized RRM module to execute an end-to-end refueling demonstration on orbit. Unlike other demos, RRM is the first to test the robotic refueling of satellite interfaces not designed to be accessed or serviced.

Robot controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston first commanded an RRM tool -- working at the end of more than 70 feet (21.34 meters) of combined Dextre and Canadarm2 robotics -- to cut a pair of twisted wires each 0.02 inches in diameter, the thickness of four sheets of paper. Additional exacting tasks followed, with RRM tools cutting more wire -- used to secure satellite parts during launch -- and unscrewing and stowing two protective caps before finally exposing the representative fuel valve.

After the Johnson team threaded the RRM Nozzle tool with its attached hose onto the valve, operators at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., sent a precise sequence of commands to activate the RRM Fluid Transfer System. Liquid ethanol flowed from the Fluid Transfer System into the Nozzle Tool and through the attached fuel valve, ultimately pulsing back into the module's reservoir. Once the fluid transfer was complete, the Nozzle Tool used a novel technique to withdraw from the valve, leaving behind a clever "quick disconnect" fitting that would allow for a simpler and more efficient future refueling connection.

Future RRM tasks scheduled for 2013 include thermal blanket cutting, and fastener and electronic termination cap removals: all firsts of their kinds. A new round of servicing task boards, tools and activities are slated to continue its investigations through 2015.

Results Straight from Space

Results of RRM operations show that current-day robotic technology can refuel the common, triple-sealed satellite fuel valves of orbiting satellites. "The RRM tools, technologies and techniques passed their tests with flying colors," said SSCO deputy project manager Benjamin Reed. "We are immensely pleased with its success and very grateful to our partner the Canadian Space Agency."

The team's excitement in completing the task was heightened by the treasury of experience and insight gained from the exercise.

"Nothing compares to seeing how your hardware and procedures work in a real space environment," said Reed. "This is the beauty of being able to test new, game-changing technologies on the International Space Station."

"We were very excited to see the RRM refueling task validated the ground development work that our dedicated SSCO team performs every day," Reed said. "It is direct evidence that we are not working blindly in the proverbial vacuum, but rather that our carefully planned work at Goddard accurately simulates the real environment of space."

SSCO plans to present RRM results to date at the upcoming Satellite 2013 conference, as well as during space station panels and other events.

What's Next?

NASA continues to test capabilities for a new robotic servicing frontier. In conjunction with RRM, the SSCO team has been studying a conceptual servicing mission and building technologies to address uncharted territory. They include an autonomous rendezvous and capture system, a propellant transfer system for zero gravity and specialized algorithms to orchestrate and synchronize satellite-servicing operations.

On Jan. 15, NASA released a Request for Information to seek input on a potential public-private partnership to effect the full utilization of NASA-developed technology through an end-to-end technology demonstration of a satellite-servicing capability for client satellites located in GEO. The conceptual Restore Mission would potentially perform servicing operations in orbit in the 2018-2023 timeframe. RRM is proving the technology to achieve such a future mission.

"RRM is a harbinger of the next era in satellite fleet operations," Reed said. "It disrupts the accepted paradigm that a GEO satellite must be decommissioned at the end of its propellant reserves. Nearly 50 years of common practice is challenged with the options that RRM proves and foreshadows."

Adrienne Alessandro

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Glory first, now nuts and bolts.

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NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission Practices New Satellite-Servicing Tasks

With a historic robotic refueling demo ticked off its checklist, NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) put down the hose and picked up the screwdriver and utility knife. This latest round of satellite-servicing tasks, completed in the early morning of May 10, will show how robots could access and further maintain satellites in orbit.

Five days of operations were held aboard the International Space Station, during which the Canadian-built Dextre robot with RRM tools demonstrated how tiny caps can be retrieved and stowed in space. This task, along with slicing through satellite blanket tape were performed on the RRM module affixed outside the space station.

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Oh! looks like they will not be needed my help then?

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Oh! looks like they will not be needed my help then?

If it all goes to plan they won't be needing anyone's help.

Robotic repair and refuelling of satellites in orbit will be a great step forward. Currently very expensive satellites usually end their career not because they break down but because they run out if fuel. Being able to refuel and maintain them will, ultimately, increase their useful life and thus reduce the overall cost.

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NASA Tests New Technologies for Robotic Refueling

It's corrosive, it's hazardous, and it can cause an explosion powerful enough to thrust a satellite forward in space. Multiple NASA centers are currently conducting a remotely controlled test of new technologies that would empower future space robots to transfer this dangerous fluid -- satellite oxidizer -- into the propellant tanks of spacecraft in space today.

Building on the success of the International Space Station's landmark Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) demonstration, the ground-based Remote Robotic Oxidizer Transfer Test (RROxiTT) is taking another step forward in NASA's ongoing campaign to develop satellite-servicing capabilities for space architectures and human exploration

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RROxiTT: Another Step toward Servicing Satellites in Space

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Kennedy Space Center in Florida are joining teams and efforts to test new robotic refueling technologies that could help satellites live longer in space. During the test, a robotic arm with a highly specialized tool transfers satellite oxidizer -- an extremely corrosive fluid that helps propel satellites in orbit -- through the valve of a simulated spacecraft. Adding to the complexity, the test is being operated remotely from Goddard while performed at Kennedy's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. The test simulates the refueling of a spacecraft in orbit, an extremely challenging task that the team has been tackling since they launched the successful Robotic Refueling Mission demonstration to the International Space Station in 2011.

For more information, visit the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office website.

In this video, robotic arm operator Alex Janas introduces RROxiTT (Remote Robotic Oxidizer Transfer Test) while standing next to the robotic arm. He also teases an upcoming, longer video that will go into further detail and show footage from the actual test.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Source: NASA Goddard - Multimedia

Edited by Waspie_Dwarf
corrected source link.

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That would be quite an accomplishment, since many satellites were never designed for this.

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since many satellites were never designed for this.

Pretty much ALL satellites were not designed for this.

There is no point designing a satellite to be refuelled in space if there is no way to achieve the refuelling. the point of this programme and the ISS Robotic Refueling Mission programme is to provide that way.

If satellites can be refuelled in orbit it will extend their life times and reduce overall costs. That would make it worth while designing them to be refuelled.

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NASA Tests New Robotic Refueling Technologies

NASA has successfully concluded a remotely controlled test of new technologies that would empower future space robots to transfer hazardous oxidizer - a type of propellant - into the tanks of satellites in space today.

Concurrently on the ground, NASA is incorporating results from this test and the Robotic Refueling Mission on the International Space Station to prepare for an upcoming ground-based test of a full-sized robotic servicer system that will perform tasks on a mock satellite client.

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Teaming Up to Test the Future of Satellite Refueling

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Kennedy Space Center in Florida joined teams and efforts to test new robotic refueling technologies that could help satellites live longer in space. During the test, a robotic arm with a highly specialized tool transfered satellite oxidizer -- an extremely corrosive fluid that helps propel satellites in orbit -- through the valve of a simulated spacecraft. Adding to the complexity, the test was operated remotely from Goddard while performed at Kennedy's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. The test simulated the refueling of a spacecraft in orbit, an extremely challenging task that the team has been tackling since they launched the successful Robotic Refueling Mission demonstration to the International Space Station in 2011.

In this video, Deputy Project Manager Benjamin Reed, Test Director Marion Riley, Lead Oxidizer Nozzle Tool Engineer Matthew Sammons, Robotic Operator Alex Janas, and Lead Fluids Engineer Brian Nufer describe the Remote Robotic Oxidizer Transfer Test (RROxiTT) that took place in February, 2014 and the applications of satellite servicing technology.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Source: NASA Goddard - Multimedia

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Space Station Live: Servicing Satellites in Space

Goddard Space Flight Center's Jill McGuire, the project manager for the Robotic Refueling Mission and Charles Bacon, Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office Systems Engineer explains the Robotic Refueling Mission. This is the weekly Payload Operations Integration Center segment from Marshall Space Flight Center and aired during Space Station Live on March 19, 2014.

Credit: NASA

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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NASA Tests Satellite Refueling Technology

A team at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, collaborating with counterparts at the Goddard Space Flight Center, recently demonstrated groundbreaking technology that could add years of service to Earth orbiting satellites.

Credit: NASA

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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NASA's Space Station Fix-It Demo for Satellites Gets Hardware for 2.0 Update

Who doesn't love an upgrade? Newer, better and oh so shiny is great, but what’s really fantastic is when a change unlocks new possibilities. That's the case with NASA's fix-it investigation on the International Space Station, the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM). The award-winning endeavor moved one step closer to its 2.0 update with the delivery of new RRM hardware aboard the European Automated Transfer Vehicle-5, which docked with the space station today. The RRM module, affixed to an exterior space station platform since 2011, now awaits the robotic transfer of two new task boards and a borescope inspection tool that will equip RRM for a new round of satellite-servicing demonstrations.

“The Robotic Refueling Mission is about to get a refresh, and we couldn't be more excited,” explains Benjamin Reed, deputy project manager of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, the team responsible for RRM's development and operations on orbit.

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Edited by Waspie_Dwarf

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Space Station Live: What's Next for Robotic Refueling Mission

Space Station Live commentator Rob Navias talks with Jill McGuire, the Robotic Refueling Mission project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center, about what's next for the satellite servicing technology demonstration aboard the International Space Station.

Credit: NASA

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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