Orbital repair station

Not open for further replies.


I was thinking, how feasible would it be to have an orbital repair station in orbit, that would be much like the space station, but instead of housing astronauts for research and the like, it could house several automated repair stations, controlled by a few astronauts, that could repair probes, satellites, and all that? We could save millions of dollars, instead of having the craft in need of repair drift, or burn up in the atomsphere.

Sorry if it sounds stupid, I just thought about it, and wondered why no one had done it yet. (Besides the US' obvious issues)


It’s been asked many times before.

It would cost more to build and operate this repair depot than they could charge to repair sats. Think inventory.
Plus if your sat gets beyond 5 years old you would want the new and improved version instead of a repaired one. Today it’s a transmitter, tomorrow it will be a camera then a thruster.


Satellite repair is definitely possible as shown by NASA. However just like practically every else they do in manned spaceflight it was too expensive to be worth it, which makes sense when each flight costs you over a billion.

Hopefully as launch prices continue to come down and as the commercial space sector develops we will probably move to something like that.


www.spaceref.com : AIP FYI: NASA Reauthorization Act: Overview, Earth Science, and Space Science
Posted Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Source: American Institute of Physics

S. 3729, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2010, has been passed by Congress and sent to the President. This bill authorizes $58.4 billion for various NASA programs in FY 2011 (this year), FY 2012 and FY 2013. NASA�s FY 2011 funding will be provided by an appropriations measure that will be acted on by Congress after it returns in November.

Accompanying the bill is a 22-page report that was prepared in August by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. It provides an explanation of the legislation�s provisions and contains many important policy directions for NASA in the next three years.

Below are the complete selections of Senate Report 111-278 regarding the general provisions of the bill, Earth Science, and Space Science.
Section 804. In-space servicing.

This section would direct the Administrator to ensure the development of in-space human servicing and repair capabilities for future observatory-class scientific spacecrafts to the extent practicable and appropriate. The Committee believes that this capability complements the bill's focus on the development of a human space flight approach that leverages on-orbit capabilities and a space launch and crew vehicle with additional complementary capabilities.


http://www.uc3m.es : A new system for locating and capturing satellites in space

Infographic about the system for docking and capturing space satellites.
Credit: Robotics Lab at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Department of Automated Systems Engineering

Scientists at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) have developed a new system for docking and capturing space satellites based on robotics and computer vision technology to autonomously guide a space vehicle to dock and capture the satellites.

Within the framework of this research project, “Acoplamiento y Agarre de Satélites mediante Sistemas Robóticos basado en Visión (Docking and Capture of Satellites through computer vision) (ASIROV)”, the scientists have developed algorithms and strategies to dock and capture a disabled satellite through the use of a space vehicle, called a “chaser”, which autonomously carries out this function. "In this way”, explained the head of this research study, Mohamed Abderrahim, who is from the UC3M Department of Automated Systems Engineering, “we attempt to carry out all the phases of a satellite inspection and maintenance mission with another autonomous vehicle equipped with a robotic system for capture and control".

What is most outstanding about the designed prototype is its algorithmic part, according to the researchers, as they are not involved with the manufacture or launching of satellites. Their true contribution lies in the set of well-defined and ordered instructions which allow satellites to be programmed for the future so they can service others which have become disabled or which allow them to prolong the satellite’s working life. These navigation algorithms, based on vision techniques, are capable of indentifying the objects of the search among various objects present, estimating their position and orientation.

In their research, given that the system cannot be tested in a real platform, the scientists have constructed a small bank of tests which allow them to simulate a scenario of this kind. They first designed vision algorithms which employ satellite model vertices as characteristic points. Then, they perfected the technique to design a new vision algorithm that uses the information about the texture around the points of interest of the image to associate them with the points in the model. “The latter technique is quite robust against noise, changes in the background and variations in illumination”, Abderrahim noted. Furthermore, he stated, “that the speed of the algorithm allows it to be used in real time”.

The idea behind this research came up thanks to the relation between the UC3M Robotics Lab and the engineers of the company GMV, which is dedicated to the space sector, and the existing need in the market for a system of this kind. "Today there is a growing need to provide satellite maintenance services, without relying on manned missions, which are very costly and involve risks. Robotics is the natural solution”, Professor Abderrahim concluded.


Orbital repair is cost reduction activity, thus it's something that will operate on margins. It can't support a station alone, but could take advantage of an existing station's excess capabilities.

Let's say there is some sort of large station complex in LEO. A combination hotel/transfer station/fuel depot/drydock, with a lot of traffic coming and going. In that scenario it may be relatively easy for a repair firm to set up a feasible business model. A large system starts getting all sorts of synergies from having multiple systems in one place that reduce costs for everyone.

Stockpile spare parts in orbit as cargo mass is available on existing launches.
Leverage an existing idle VASIMR tug to bring a satellite over and send it back out.
Repair work is done in the spare time of the large station's full time maintenance engineers, deferring some of their overall costs.
The hotel uses the living quarters when passengers aren't waiting for a transfer.
Station keeping for the facility would also be via VASIMR drive, so the same resupply tanker also refuels the tugs and other ships. The incremental cost of more fuel for repair missions is very low compared to any sort of dedicated single use system.
The station could become a base of operations for space-based solar power platforms. Solar arrays for tugs and power become standardized.
Make the drydock the initial assembly point for a Mars bound ship and increase the tourist value of the hotel. Who wouldn't want to be able to look out the window at both the Earth, and the next ship to Mars?
And if the whole thing is modular, it grows as needed.

We're going to need a Swiss army knife of a space station.
Not open for further replies.