Satellites’ Eternal Life: In-Orbit Refueling Marks New Astronautics Era

Thousands of satellites in Earth’s orbit are facing a critical problem – depletion of fuel reserves leading to the cessation of operations even with functional equipment. To address this issue, a developing technology for refueling satellites in orbit is being proposed to extend their service life.

Under the guidance of the South-Western Research Institute (Swri), a project aims to create a “space bus” for providing refueling services in space. This initiative is part of the Space Mobility and Logistics (SML) program worth $25.5 million, funded by the US Space Force and executed by the primary contractor Astroscale Us.

The main goal of the project is to develop a spacecraft known as the Astroscale Prototype Servicer for Refueling (APS-R) to refuel satellites in geostationary orbit.

The APS-R concept involves transporting hydrazine fuel to satellites in geostationary orbit at an altitude of approximately 35,800 km above the equator, many of which are utilized for telecommunications. The spacecraft will orbit circularly in sync with Earth’s rotation, enabling it to refuel satellites with compatible refueling ports.

Swri plans to construct the “space bus” for APS-R within the next 16 months. The device will weigh around 198 kg, including fuel, with folded dimensions of 61x71x114 cm. The launch of the spacecraft is scheduled for 2026.

This technology not only prolongs satellite lifespans but also offers significant cost savings considering the hefty expenses involved in creating and launching a single satellite for monitoring the ground. Moreover, this development could aid in addressing the issue of space debris, which poses a significant threat to space infrastructure and upcoming missions.

/Reports, release notes, official announcements.