NASA Just Ordered a Robot That Can Repair Satellites in Orbit

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When your bike or car needs a tune-up, it’s easy enough to bring it down to a repair shop. But if your vehicle is hurtling through orbit, hundreds of kilometers above the planet, it’s a lot trickier to arrange a maintenance check or refueling operation.

NASA intends to tackle this challenge with its Restore-L spacecraft, which is designed to grasp, repair, gas up, and re-deploy its fellow orbiting robots. On Monday, the agency announced that it would award a $127 million contract to the private satellite company Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California, to build this orbital helper bot in time for a projected launch in 2020. This maiden flight of the Restore-L will test out the spacecraft’s ability to rendezvous with and subsequently service a government asset in orbit.

READ MORE: To Clean Up Dangerous Orbital Trash, We May Need Space Harpoons and Satellite Claws

“Restore-L effectively breaks the paradigm of one-and-done spacecraft,” said Frank Cepollina, the associate director of NASA Goddard’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO), in a statement.

“It introduces new ways to robotically manage, upgrade, and prolong the lifespans of our costly orbiting national assets. By doing so, Restore-L opens up expanded options for more resilient, efficient, and cost-effective operations in space,” he added.

If successful, Restore-L could also lend its talents to other endeavors, like cleaning up space debris or testing out asteroid capture platforms. It’s also the latest example of NASA partnering with the private sector to reduce operation costs and diversify America’s spacefaring portfolio.

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