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

nasa repair robot restore l 2
NASA
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.

Product Review

This was 3D printed? With the Anycubic Photon, you can't tell

Never mind the fact that the Anycubic Photon 3D printer only costs 500 bucks. In terms of sheer print quality, this printer is on the same level as machines that cost six times as much.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Passenger spacecraft, Facebook data breach, and more

This episode of Digital Trends Live saw the fourth launch of passenger spacecraft SpaceShipTwo, and a Facebook data breach. We were also joined by the founder of Forter, Michael Reitblat, to discuss how to keep your data safe.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Smart Home

This A.I.-enabled tech brings cutting-edge automation to grocery stores

Takeoff Technologies is working to make grocery deliveries fast, accurate, and convenient using A.I.-enabled technology to augment robotic grocery orders that can be completed in minutes.
Emerging Tech

Postmates’ to roll out Minion-like autonomous delivery robots in 2019

Postmates is about to employ a cute little robot to work alongside its human delivery personnel. Called Serve, the wheel-based bot can carry items weighing up to 50 pounds and has a range of 30 miles.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers of 2018

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.