More than 1, 100 satellites are currently in Earth orbits. They are the ones who broadcast television broadcasts, telephone calls, collect meteorological data and spy on rocket bases all over the planet. Most of these satellites are expensive — tens, hundreds or even millions of dollars are required for their launch and maintenance.
Now NASA wants to build a satellite maintenance station that will repair and breathe a second life into the satellites before they fall and collapse.
“Is there a way to extend satellite exploitation, troubleshoot various problems and breakdowns?”, Asks the deputy director of the NASA Satellite Service Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center, Benjamin Reed. "Yes, we have the necessary technology to make it possible," added Reed.
NASA astronauts received an excellent practice during the two refueling missions with robots that took place at the International Space Station in 2011 and 2014. At the same time, engineers on the ground worked to create new types of nozzles, drills and other tools for robots. In addition, they built a 20-foot layout of the Landsat-7 satellite to practice docking maneuvers, which are necessary for refueling in space.
Also Raven was developed - a laser sensor that calculates the exact trajectory of space objects. This will ensure reliable docking of two relatively small objects in space.
Reed believes that in the near future, refueling and repairing satellites right in orbit will become quite commonplace. He notes that such technologies will also allow large soil samples to be taken from asteroids as part of the Asteroid Redirection Mission, which will be launched in December 2020.
However, in the process of creating satellite repair stations, it is necessary to take into account the interests of commercial satellite companies. They should also take part in this project.
“Yes, this is really relevant,” said Jean-Luc Froliger, vice president in charge of the satellite engineering department of Intelsat.
A few years ago, Intelsat had an agreement with a Canadian space company to conduct satellite services, but now this agreement has lost its force. Some other private firms, such as Vivisat and other companies in Israel and Greece, also share funding and service with space agencies. "At the moment, more momentum comes from the commercial side than from NASA," said Froliger. "If you manage to tie a commercial interest to your business, you will certainly succeed," he added.
It is also extremely important to settle all legal issues before NASA or some other structure can launch its own repair / refueling ship. What will happen if the docking of the satellite with the repair ship does not go very well and the satellite gets damaged, or descends from its orbit?
Froliger hopes that the existing agreements between various satellite providers and operators, as well as the agreements of NASA and some other companies, will play the role of the so-called safety cushion in case of problems and controversial issues.