Saving Satellites

Astronaut John Grunsfeld stands on the end of the Shuttle Atlantis's Canadarm to refurbish and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. The Canadian-built robotic arm was instrumental in the four missions to repair the famed space observatory. This on-orbit servicing allowed Hubble to continue to make exciting astronomical discoveries. (Credit: NASA)

Satellites are designed to withstand a variety of challenges to ensure that the sensitive electronics on board can survive the effects of launch and perform for years in the harsh conditions of space. One of the major hurdles engineering teams face when designing a satellite is how much fuel it can carry to operate throughout its lifetime. Many satellites become space debris after they run out of fuel. But what if we were able to refuel them?

The ability to refuel satellites in space could one day save satellite operators from the significant costs of building and launching new replacement satellites. With over 1100 active satellites currently operating in the near-Earth environment (many of them worth hundreds of millions of dollars), and an additional 2500 inactive satellites still orbiting around our planet, the savings would be substantial.

In addition to the Canadian robotics on board the International Space Station (ISS) and projects like the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is also looking ahead to advance state-of-the-of-art space robotics with the Next-Generation Canadarm project, a research and development initiative that is currently developing new robotic architectures, components, tools and techniques for future satellite servicing missions. The work being conducted by the CSA in on-orbit robotics servicing will not only position Canada for exploration missions to come, but will also open doors for commercial applications in industries like communications and defense.