Coming Soon: Gas Station for Satellites

It will deliver fuel, perform repairs to keep them in orbit longer
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2011 4:31 PM CDT
Coming Soon: Gas Station for Satellites
This promotional image from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. demonstrates a method for refueling satellites in space.   (MDA Corporation)

What's being described by as the world's first "flying satellite gas station" is expected to launch in 2015. The Space Infrastructure Servicing vehicle, as Canada's MDA Corporation calls it, will zip around and refuel satellites to extend their lives, perform repairs, and use robotic arms to nudge inactive craft into the "graveyard orbit," where they won't pose a risk to working satellites. That should help cut down on space junk. (Click to read another idea on that.)

But it's the potential for refueling that's the biggest factor for Intelsat, a Belgian-American communications satellite firm that signed a $280 million deal to be MDA's first client. It's clearly much cheaper to keep current satellites in orbit by giving them more fuel than to build and launch new ones. "This is a first-time-ever, huge, huge, huge event," said the director of the Space Protection Program, a joint project of the Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office. (More satellite stories.)

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