Satellites have some serious miles per gallon, but even those systems need to top off the tank now and then. Right now, there is no way to easily refuel satellites orbiting the Earth. Without fuel, the satellites lose their ability to maneuver, and eventually become useless to us on the ground.
NASA is out to change that with a robotic gas station. We definitely need one or two up in orbit. Currently, thousands of satellites orbit the Earth, transmitting a wealth of data. The GPS app on your phone? That’s due to a satellite. The NSA spying on your cookout? A satellite. Weather forecast and TV shows depends on satellite signals.
NASA’s Bob Granath talked about the technology in a statement. “NASA hopes to add precious years of functional life to satellites and expand options for operators who face unexpected emergencies, tougher economic demands and aging fleets.”
The technology behind the orbital gas station isn’t just a gas station. It could also be a one-stop repair shop for damaged or aging satellites. The technology could also be used to build new structures in space. Hey, throw up a space hotel and I’m completely onboard.
Another benefit of a possible gas station in space is that it would limit the growing pile of space junk. Fixing and updating satellites via robotic technology would lengthen the life of satellites. This in turn would significantly cut down on the retired satellites floating above us.
Currently, there are more than 100 government-owned satellites and 360 commercial communication satellites. Refueling and repairing would enable ground crews to slow the rate of expensive launches. NASA is also looking at this as a win-win, speaking on space junk.
“The capability to refuel and repair satellites at this orbit could make GEO [geosynchronous Earth orbit] more sustainable and help mitigate orbital debris problems.”
This, coupled with the possible microwave engine caps off a stellar week for NASA. It is looking increasingly likely that our final frontier is ripe for exploring.