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Final Atlantis shuttle flight to feature satellite gas station prototype

June 15, 2011

The Dextre robot will help affix NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission experiment to the International Space Station's ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-4 (credit: NASA)

This July 8, before the space shuttle Atlantis is retired after nearly 30 years of service, it will carry the Robotic Refueling Mission to the International Space Station, a “satellite gas station” that would allow the continued operation of satellites that run out of fuel. Currently, they must be trashed.

Besides refueling satellites, the Robotic Refueling Mission is also capable of performing minor repairs. Given that satellites cost anywhere between $50 million and about $682 million, the possibility of extending their lives would make space more accessible to more groups. It would also help lower the buildup of space junk in orbit, a problem that feeds on itself as it gets worse. Each bit of space junk becomes a hazard which can damage satellites, creating further space junk.

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