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After a two year hiatus, engineers have resumed experiments on ISS to demonstrate robotic servicing of satellites in space.
Known by its creative team as the “little ISS experiment that could,” RRM broke uncharted ground in 2011-2013 with a set of activities that debuted robotic tools and procedures to refuel the propellant tanks of existing satellites. Its second phase of operations, which took place in April and May and will resume again later in 2015, offers something entirely different and just as disruptive, says Reed. “We’ve outfitted the RRM module with new hardware so we can shift our focus to satellite inspection, instrument life extension, and even techniques for instrument swap-out,” says Reed. Such servicing technologies could open new possibilities for owners of spacecraft in low and geosynchronous Earth orbit, he says.
Many of the designs of this demo project are based on actual research satellites that need refueling or repair. Thus, if the robot can do the work on ISS, it is likely it can also do the work at the satellite itself.