ISS To Become Orbital Gas Station

Well, only for demonstration purposes at first. The International Space Station is better known as a flagship space science platform and a destination for visiting Space Shuttle crews and International space tourists, but a recent campaign at NASA to utilize the platform as a place to service satellites has gained enough ground for a demonstration to go ahead. The robotic device known as Dextre, the Dexterous Manipulator on the station will be used in the experiment which is scheduled to take place within the next year.

Dextre looking almost human

Essentially an in-orbit repair, Dextre will use its array of tools to rip into the side of a demonstration satellite, install a valve, and pump fresh hydrazine fuel into the empty tank. A demonstration that not only can satellites be serviced at the station, but also that the existing fleet can be modified on-orbit to accept refueling even though they were not designed as such.

Due for completion in October, the mock satellite is being constructed at NASA'a Goddard Spaceflight Center and will be installed on an external Express Logistics Carrier on the station's truss. Ground engineers will perform the demonstration without any intervention from the space station crew, demonstrating that the technology need not impact current station operations.

Although the ultimate goal is to provide a commercial service to satellite owners as part of a for-profit industry, this is a major step forward in the thinking of orbital utilization. So far the focus has been very heavily on the exploration and learning side, but it is good to see that now we are at a stage where commercial ventures are able to be considered. The logistics of getting a satellite to the ISS for the operation are an entirely different matter, and one that will need to be addressed for any commercial venture to be a success. The first step though is proving that this can be done, and by this time next year it looks very much like we will have that concept proven.

Image credit: NASA
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