Feeds

Robot spacecraft in zero-gee pumping shocker

DARPA, Boeing claim 'autonomous servicing' now a reality

High performance access to file storage

Two unmanned space platforms have autonomously come together 300 miles above the earth, carrying out a "pump fluid transfer" in a milestone for robot sex automated satellite servicing.

A Boeing Autonomous Space Transport Robotic Operations (ASTRO) vehicle and a NextSat serviceable-satellite demonstrator were launched together aboard an Atlas rocket on 8 March. Following launch there were software problems which caused difficulties in orienting the machines, but these were overcome by ground engineers and the two spacecraft duly separated.

The mating and fluid-transfer demonstration was achieved two days ago, according to a Boeing release. The NextSat received 32lb of pressurised hydrazine from ASTRO, and a further 17lb by pumping.

Rather than (deeply) specialist robot smut, the quarter-billion-dollar Orbital Express programme is intended to demonstrate that satellites can be refuelled and serviced by autonomous systems, which could greatly extend their useful life span on some platforms.

In particular, the US military's extensive network of spy satellites could find this useful. Surveillance birds need to change orbit fairly frequently so as to get a good look at locations of interest, and each orbit change uses up thruster fuel. Once all a satellite's manoeuvring juice is gone, it has tended to become useless.

It's no surprise, then, that the Defence Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) is heavily involved in Orbital Express. But NASA is in there too, as ordinary civilian space efforts could also find robot satellite fill-ups useful. Some funding has also come from corporate sources, with Boeing stating last year that it has contributed "millions...a very significant fraction of the overall cost". Boeing's ASTRO service-bot can do more than just squirt thruster fuel. During this week's demo, it successfully plugged a battery into NextSat using a robotic arm.

At present, ASTRO operates under a low level of autonomy, needing to ask for approval to proceed (ATP) fairly frequently, not unlike a Windows computer. According to Boeing, however, "future demonstrations will require fewer ATPs, allowing Orbital Express to conduct flight activities with increased autonomy. At the highest autonomy levels, no ATPs are required".

With conventional human astronauts having demonstrated their fallibility in recent months, it could be that yet more people are soon to lose job-related satisfaction opportunities to the robot hordes. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.