Sunday, March 20, 2011

First Space-Based Gas Station Set to Open in 2015

by Stephen Messenger, Porto Alegre, Brazil

In space, no one can hear you scream -- about the soaring prices at the pump, that is. For what will be the very first time, plans for a space-based satellite filling station have been announced, with a launch date set for 2015. It may sound like a bit of unnecessary convenience some 22,369 miles above our heads, but experts say that the gas station will do much more than make Earth a planetary truck-stop. "This is a first-time-ever, huge, huge, huge event," says the director of the Space Protection Program -- and it's sure to make space a little cleaner, too.

It's been an idea tossed around for years -- an orbiting gas station to refuel satellites and spacecraft which could save millions of dollars and reduce the collection of interstellar trash. Presently, satellites that require fuel are filled on the ground, only to become obsolete when their tanks run dry, destined to end up as useless hunks of floating trash, jeopardizing future visits beyond our upper atmosphere.

To help solve this problem, the Canadian company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) have developed a one-of-a-kind refueling and service station that promises to cut the clutter when it's set in orbit in 2015. A report from outlines the project's numerous benefits:

The new plan offers the potential not just to extend the lives of working satellites, but to help combat the growing space junk problem. The satellite, called the Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) vehicle, is designed not just to transfer more fuel into existing satellites, but to inspect, tow, reposition and make minor repairs to them.

In addition to its tank of fuel, the refueling satellite will carry a robotic arm that can be used to grab onto satellites and tug at stuck solar array panels, for example, or attempt other minor fixes to broken parts...

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