Feeds

Robot spacecraft in zero-gee pumping shocker

DARPA, Boeing claim 'autonomous servicing' now a reality

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Software bug caught Galileo sats in landslide, no escape from reality
Life had just begun, code error means Russia's gone and thrown it all away
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup
Learn why inSync received the highest overall rating from Druva and is the top choice for the mobile workforce.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.