EDUCATION

Goddard tests robot that refuels satellites

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Goddard Space Flight Center has played a role in every shuttle launch, from handling communications with astronauts to developing experiments to be flown into space.

NASA’s final shuttle mission will be no different. Goddard experts are testing a re-fueling robot that could keep orbiting satellites in space longer.

On the fifth day of the shuttle mission, space-walking astronauts will begin an experiment designed and built by Goddard researchers.

Astronauts are taking a robotic refueling mission technology, or RRM, worth $22 million to the international space station.

“We intend to develop the technology that will allow the other hundreds of hundreds of satellites to be serviced ,” said Ben Reed, deputy program manager at Goddard.

Experts say the purpose of the RRM is to develop the technology to refuel satellites already in orbit, even if those satellites were not designed for refueling.

Reed says often the sensors on any of the 400 existing satellites are still usable but when the satellites run out of fuel, they become space junk.

“We are trying to break that paradigm and allow companies to be able to continue revenue stream by having their satellites operate for longer,” Reed said.

While he says NASA has no plans to get into the long-term business of refueling satellites, this technology could be replicated down the line, eventually allowing both NASA and the industry to keep the satellites working.

Full testing of the RRM won't begin until later this year and will continue for the next two years on board the International Space Station.

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