NASA’s long-armed robot will refuel and repair satellites in space

nasa repair robot restore l 2
NASA wants to revolutionize how the space industry manages orbiting spacecraft with its new Restore-L mission, a project to deploy a robotic spacecraft capable of refueling and servicing an operational satellite. More than just a satellite-fixing robot, the Restore-L project also will be a testbed for new technologies that may prove useful to other missions, including its own highly touted plan to land people on Mars.

In its first revision, the planned Restore-L servicer will be a space-based robot capable of refueling a satellite in orbit. The robot will contain an autonomous navigation and docking system that’ll make it easy for the robot to hook up with a satellite in orbit. A robotic arm with tools and a tool drive will allow the robot to refuel a satellite, delivering the necessary amount of fuel at the correct pressure, rate, and temperature for the spacecraft.

Once it has completed refueling, the Restore-L robot will detach from the satellite and move on to its next client. NASA hopes to test the technology on its Landsat 7 satellite, a low-Earth-orbit satellite deployed and managed by NASA and the USGS.

Though initially designed for refueling, NASA plans to expand the capabilities of Restore-L to include other maintenance activities that will extend the life of an orbiting spacecraft. “Restore-L effectively breaks the paradigm of one-and-done spacecraft,” says Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) Associate Director Frank Cepollina in a prepared statement. Once deployed, the robot could act as a gas station in space, providing satellites with much-needed propellant. On the maintenance side, the robot one day may be able to manufacture and assemble components in space and use them to service a satellite. It also may be used to reduce space accidents by removing space junk from orbit.

Besides its role as a maintenance robot, NASA plans to use this mission to develop and test technology for upcoming missions such the Asteroid Redirect Mission and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) observatory. The WFIRST, which was announced earlier this year, is being built with support for in-orbit refueling by maintenance robots such as Restore-L.

NASA also wants to bring this technology to space industry as a whole, and is offering the tech to satellite owners who want to maintain their satellites in space instead of abandoning them. “With robotic servicing on the table, satellite owners can extend the lifespan of satellites that are running low on fuel, reaping additional years of service — and revenue — from their initial investment,” says Benjamin Reed, SSCO deputy project manager.


Why cars last longer than ever: The tech that keeps your car running

We’re driving more than ever, and our cars are lasting longer. How are automakers making sure our cars can keep up with our driving habits? Hint: it’s all about the tech inside. Here’s a list of the most important advancements.
Movies & TV

Who needs sunshine? Stay inside and watch the best movies on Netflix instead

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

Fiat Chrysler is the latest to partner with autonomous-tech specialist Aurora

Fiat Chrysler and Silicon Valley startup Aurora are joining forces to develop self-driving technology for commercial services, marking the latest in a string of similar collaborations between automakers and tech specialists.
Movies & TV

Prime-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite TV series currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Emerging Tech

This drone with hands looks like a nightmare straight out of Black Mirror

This unlikely drone-with-hands creation is the work of Federico Ciccarese, the brains behind YouBionic, a bionic hand project that has evolved far beyond its original brief. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

This crazy-looking robot uses microspines on its legs to climb up walls

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have built a bioinspired robot, which uses microspines on its feet to grip onto rough surfaces. This allows it to climb up very steep gradients. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

Got $400 million to burn? The world’s largest airplane is up for sale

Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane, is up for sale. All it'll cost you is $400 million dollars. The brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the plane was supposed to make space travel more accessible and affordable.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Florida’s autonomous vehicle law, E3 updates, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including Florida allowing fully autonomous vehicles on the road, Atari’s new gaming system, E3 updates, high-speed rail, and more.
Emerging Tech

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been boldly going to Mars and capturing images since 2005, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet's surface which will look familiar to Trekkies.
Emerging Tech

Adobe develops tool to identify Photoshopped images of faces

With deepfake videos making headlines, and campaigns against the Photoshopping of models, people are more aware than ever of the digital manipulation of images. Now Adobe wants to give tools to users to let them spot faked images.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will pave the way for manned missions to Mars

Survival on Mars is a massive challenge for humanity. To cope with the highly variable temperatures, lack of oxygen and water, and high levels of radiation, the Mars 2020 rover will carry instruments to pave the way for human exploration.
Emerging Tech

Facebook builds virtual homes to train A.I. agents in realistic environments

Researchers at Facebook have created Habitat, which is a platform that enables rapid training for A.I. agents. They will receive thousands of hours of training in just a few minutes in the virtual homes.
Emerging Tech

Impossible Foods struggles to keep up with Impossible Burger demand

Red Robin and White Castle have reported Impossible Burger shortages, as it appears that Impossible Foods is struggling to keep up with demand. The company will be selling its meat-like patties in retail outlets within the year.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Plant-based shoes and a ukulele learning aid

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!