The Goddard Space Flight Center, which runs NASA’s operations in Greenbelt, Maryland, has selected three companies to evaluate its latest satellite servicing technologies. The companies selected are Orbit Fab, Altius Space Machines, and Honeybee Robotics, whose task is to offer cooperative robotic detailing for the NASA’s Exploration and In-Space Services projects division (NexIS, formerly known as the Satellite Servicing Projects Division) engineers to study before they can proceed with their technology.
The technicians requested this data, and NASA satisfied their desire by bringing together three partners to help them understand this technology and how they can deploy it to serve their needs. The Space Acts Agreement provides that any agency should do this for the companies to also learn from their competitors on the areas that they need to improve.
NASA intends to gather the data from these tests and make it accessible to other federal agencies for integration into their future projects. The agency also plans to start testing other technologies later on this year before it can launch its payloads. The chief of the Goddard Center, Dennis Andrucyk, stated that they would be offering the resources that these companies always dreamt of but can’t afford to test their theories in this field.
He added that the agency is renowned for partnering with companies to realize breakthroughs in space technologies, and they intend to do the same for these companies. Since most of the satellites have been designed to live in space independently, there is always the challenge of servicing them. This gap is what has stirred up the demand for grapple features where robots can service the satellites or capture the free-flying ones that have disconnected from their control panels on Earth.
Nevertheless, the exception in this opportunity is the Hubble Space Telescope, whose engineers designed it to be flexible for servicing, upgrading, repairs, and other life extension programs. The new technology will allow space companies to capture satellites without human effort, which sometimes might be limited in space due to the reduced gravity. Moreover, the technology will help to prove to the agency that in-orbit satellite servicing is possible and that there can be a system that handles such operations in space.
On the other hand, the companies have the chance to test their technology with advanced equipment and resources that the agency is offering in its Goddard center. The head of robot operations for NexIS, Joe Easley, stated that NASA has to identify the technologies that the companies in the space industry are developing to minimize wastage of resources by the agency to redo the same task. This concept allows the industry to make notable progress instead of repetitive and resource-consuming operations.