SA lot of the satellites we depend on for modern life are in high orbits, beyond the reach of Earth-based repair missions. It would be prohibitively expensive, if not impossible, to send a team of astronauts up there. As a result, when those satellites fail or run out of fuel, they become space junk, and billions of dollars must be spent to replace them — until now. A team at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario is developing a robot repair team that could keep those satellites in orbit for years to come.It isn't possible to repair satellites in high orbit by remote control, because the radio lag is too great. With the damaged satellite hurtling through space, the operator couldn't react quickly enough to accomplish anything. The Autonomous Space Servicing Vehicle (ASSV - yes, they actually use this acronym) gets around this by sending robots up to do the tricky job of collecting the satellite. They load it into a repair bay. There, the static satellite can be successfully fixed via telerobotics. That last bit is actually a little disappointing, because I was initially picturing hundreds of satellites steadily orbiting Earth, doing their jobs as a sturdy team of robots keeps them fully functional centuries after humanity has breathed its last gasp. What lonely radio signals would they continue to bounce back and forth as they keep watch over the empty world beneath them? But in truth, humans will be needed to keep things running. While it's not as poetic, it could save telecom companies and world governments enormous amounts of money. Image by: NASA. New robotic repair system will fix ailing satellites. [Queen's University]
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