NASA is planning a mission to show the flexibility to restore and improve satellites in Earth’s orbit. The mission, known as OSAM-1 (On-orbit Servicing, Meeting, and Manufacturing-1), will ship a robotic spacecraft geared up with robotic arms and all of the instruments and gear wanted to repair, refuel, or lengthen satellite tv for pc lifespans, even when these satellites weren’t designed to be serviced on-orbit.
The primary check flight of OSAM-1 is scheduled for launch no sooner than 2026 and can go to low Earth orbit to rendezvous, grapple, and dock with Landsat 7, an Earth-observing satellite tv for pc that has been in orbit since 1999. The mission will conduct a first-of-its-kind refueling demonstration check, then relocate the satellite tv for pc to a brand new orbit. Whereas some elements of the mission are autonomous, human teleoperators will conduct a lot of the procedures and maneuvers remotely from Earth.
NASA says that repairing satellites — as an alternative of simply letting defunct spacecraft drift in Earth orbit — helps lower house particles to create a extra sustainable future for house exploration. As well as, the check flight will assess on-orbit robotic meeting and manufacturing, which many see because the know-how wanted for the longer term, reminiscent of doing upkeep throughout long-duration human missions in our Photo voltaic System and setting up and sustaining buildings in orbit of the Moon or Mars.
The unique thought for a satellite tv for pc servicing spacecraft is the brainchild of famous NASA engineer Frank Cepollina, who has a historical past of repairing spacecraft in orbit. He led the groups in control of planning and choreographing the 5 servicing missions for the Hubble Area Telescope. He helped design the specialised instruments and procedures that astronauts would use to efficiently restore and improve Hubble, conserving the venerable telescope working for years longer than projected and permitting higher devices and know-how to be put in in every successive mission. He additionally led groups that developed strategies to restore different satellites through the early days of the Area Shuttle period.
“To me, it’s astounding that we might simply throw satellites away on orbit,” Cepollina informed me in 2016 once I toured the Robotic Operations Middle at what was then known as the Satellite tv for pc Servicing Capabilities Workplace at NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Middle. “It appeared we must always discover a approach to repair these satellites for financial causes and for the scientific advantages we might derive. I needed to discover a approach to repair and improve satellites.”
Cepollina, now age 85, solely not too long ago retired from NASA however has mentored and skilled a number of generations of engineers, by no means giving up on his dream of repairing satellites. After a number of proposals for servicing missions, the idea was formally acknowledged as a mission and attained ‘line merchandise’ standing in NASA’s price range. However there may be nonetheless a lot work to be completed to be prepared for launch by 2026.
“Once you do one thing for the primary time, there’s plenty of new know-how and procedures, and also you inherently run into roadblocks and setbacks, and we aren’t any completely different,” mentioned Ross Henry, the OSAM-1 Servicing Payload Supervisor, in an interview with Universe At this time. “We’re coping with a number of new techniques, like a brand new lidar (Mild Detection and Ranging) system, a singular propellant switch system, and two robotic arms [one is a redundant backup] that may use eleven distinctive instruments and adapters, every with a particular goal as a part of the mission.”
The first objective for OSAM-1’s first check flight will likely be refueling Landsat 7, which is about 705 km (440 miles) above Earth. However since Landsat 7 — like many satellites — was by no means meant to be serviced and even seen once more, the OSAM-1 spacecraft can’t simply pull up alongside one other satellite tv for pc and hook up the gasoline hose.
First, OSAM-1 might want to get shut sufficient for one of many robotic arms to grapple Landsat 7 after which carry out docking maneuvers, utilizing the unique docking clamp or Marman ring on the satellite tv for pc.
“Then, there may be plenty of work we’ll should do to get entry to the fueling website,” Henry defined. “OSAM-1’s distant operators must minimize into the multi-layer insulation thermal blanketing and transfer it out of the best way to show the fill/drain valves. However after they have been closed out earlier than launch, these valves have been coated with lock wires, so we’ll should go in with specialised scissors and minimize these. Plus, there are redundant security caps we’ll take away.”
“It’s astounding that we might simply throw satellites away.”
OSAM-1 will carry 122 kg (270lbs) of gasoline, and the plan is to switch 115 kg (250 lbs) of it to Landsat 7 utilizing the robotic arm and a retractable hose system.
After all, that is all occurring whereas each spacecraft are touring at about 26,500 km/h (16,500 mph). OSAM-1 carries six rendezvous and proximity operations cameras to be used whereas approaching Landsat 7. A further twenty-one cameras are a part of a specialised imaginative and prescient sensor system to permit the teleoperators to see the operations from each angle, and floodlights present lighting for work to proceed even throughout orbital evening, which occurs about each 50 minutes. Landsat 7’s orbital interval is 99 minutes.
Goddard’s Robotic Operations Middle features a specialised testbed with black, curtain-lined partitions in order that when the lights are shut off, it simulates the darkness of house. This enables for absolutely immersive coaching with full-scale mock-ups of Landsat 7 and OSAM-1.
Beforehand, this mission was generally known as Restore-L and centered solely on refueling and restore. However in February of 2019, a brand new part to the mission was added, known as the Area Infrastructure Dexterous Robotic (SPIDER).
“This provides the ‘meeting and manufacturing’ portion of OSAM-1,” mentioned Henry. “As soon as we end with Landsat 7, we’ll launch it after which go off and do the meeting and manufacturing portion.”
SPIDER contains its personal 5-meter (16 ft) lengthy robotic arm, bringing the whole variety of robotic arms flying on OSAM-1 to a few. SPIDER will assemble a practical 3-meter (9-foot) communications antenna, constructed from elements introduced alongside to house, and can show Ka-band transmission with a floor station.
“Now we have plenty of actually area of interest engineers working with us who know these items and do it day in and time out.”
SPIDER may also manufacture a 32-foot (10-meter) light-weight composite beam to confirm the potential to assemble giant spacecraft buildings in orbit.
The event of all of the techniques, instruments, and strategies has required enter from a number of areas of know-how.
“Now we have plenty of actually area of interest engineers working with us who know these items and do it day in and time out,” Henry mentioned. “A few of our most unusual engineers are the robotic of us who know the way the arms have been constructed and perceive the nuances of the joints and mechanisms — reminiscent of what poses you’ll be able to and might’t put the arm in, or if an elbow joint fails, they know how one can nonetheless transfer the top effector with the six different actuators. Now we have a very nice workforce that has dived in deep on the technical a part of this mission for a number of years. They’re all leaders of their discipline, I don’t assume there’s one other staff like them within the nation or perhaps even the world.”
Discovering an acceptable candidate satellite tv for pc to be the experimental topic for this demonstration mission took a number of years of negotiations, Henry mentioned, as the necessities have been particular, and it needed to be a government-owned satellite tv for pc.
“We wanted a authorities company who was prepared to have their satellite tv for pc be the primary to show this know-how,” Henry mentioned. “Landsat 7 matches the invoice for quite a few causes. It’s in an orbit that’s simply accessible, and it’s on the finish of its mission lifetime by way of producing science. Landsat 9 has already launched and is being introduced into service, so its successor is already up and functioning.”
Landsat 7’s nominal science mission ended on April 62022, and its main science instrument, the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+), was positioned in standby mode. However its twenty-two years in operation offered has offered substantial information on land cowl administration and evaluation, international change research, and mapping.
The funded and baseline mission for OSAM 1 is ‘one and completed,’ the place as soon as it completes the servicing, refueling, after which the meeting and manufacturing portion of the mission, it’s scheduled to be deorbited and can dissipate in Earth’s environment.
“With that being mentioned, we acknowledge we’re flying a really succesful automobile with gasoline obtainable,” Henry mentioned, “so there are a lot of of us who wish to see us do a follow-up mission whereas we’re in orbit. However as of proper now, nothing has been introduced or funded.”
“Laying the groundwork for future advances within the seek for extraterrestrial life.”
Henry mentioned he’s honored and excited to guide the hassle in making Frank Cepollina’s dream come true of getting a real satellite tv for pc servicing “tow truck” in orbit. Cepollina has one other dream, too, that fleets of those tow truck-like satellites might construct buildings in house, not solely habitats however giant house telescopes with the flexibility to immediately picture distant exoplanets, for instance.
“What we’re demonstrating within the meeting and manufacturing portion is laying the groundwork for future advances within the seek for extraterrestrial life and hopefully the colonization of the Photo voltaic System,” Henry mentioned. “Many years from now, I believe you’ll be capable to hint that again to OSAM-1 being the primary US mission to show these capabilities on orbit.”