Robotic tool operations bring in-space refueling closer to reality

Robotic Tool Operations Bring In-Space Refueling Closer to Reality
Robotic Refueling Mission 3’s Multi-Function Tool 2, operated by Dextre, demonstrates robotic refueling operations on the outside of space station. Credit: NASA

NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission 3 (RRM3) completed an initial set of tool operations, bringing the idea of using water ice or methane from other worlds as fuel for spacecraft one step closer to reality. The ability to store and transfer cryogens (super-cold hydrogen, oxygen and methane) will help spacecraft journey father into our solar system and beyond.

The successful operations demonstrated the first of three tools designed by the Satellite Servicing Projects Division to robotically transfer liquid methane from one tank to another in . Operated by space station's Dextre robot, the Multi-function Tool 2 unstowed the cryogen coupler adapter and inserted it into the cryogen coupler adapter port. This operation would make it possible to then transfer cryogenic fuel using the remaining RRM3 tools. Additional RRM3 tool operations will be carried out later this year.

RRM3 launched to the International Space Station in December 2018. While the mission is no longer capable of transferring liquid due to a hardware issue in April, it has achieved several objectives. RRM3 demonstrated the longest storage of a cryogen without loss due to a process called boil off. Boil off is a loss of fluid that occurs when the cryogen is not maintained at a low enough temperature. Special coolers within RRM3 kept the liquid cold for four months.

Robotic Tool Operations Bring In-Space Refueling Closer to Reality
The RRM3 team manages operations from the Goddard Satellite Servicing Control Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Credit: NASA/Taylor Mickal

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Citation: Robotic tool operations bring in-space refueling closer to reality (2019, August 19) retrieved 21 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-08-robotic-tool-in-space-refueling-closer.html
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Aug 19, 2019
There is good and bad to this experiment. The bad is that NewSpace fanatics will use any success as "proof" their dogma concerning fuel depots as the miracle that makes Super Heavy Lift Vehicles unnecessary is correct. The way they marketed the Falcon rocket for a decade has done immense unrealized damage to space exploration. The good is that cryocoolers might actually be a workable technology and allow for storage of cryogenic propellants for Landers. Transferring liquid oxygen and methane will entail boil-off penalties though. Transferring liquid hydrogen in space is a very challenging evolution that may or may not prove practical. Storing and transferring the impossibly massive amounts required for Human Space Flight Beyond Earth and Lunar Orbit (HSF-BELO) make Nuclear Pulse Propulsion (bombs) the only viable option. NewSpace "enterpreneurs" looking to promote space as cheap do like nuclear energy making them liars since only state-sponsored projects can hope to succeed.

Aug 19, 2019
NewSpace "enterpreneurs" looking to promote space as cheap do NOT like nuclear energy making them liars since only state-sponsored projects (using nuclear materials and technology unavailable to them) can hope to succeed. Sorry for the typo.

Aug 20, 2019
I'm OK with entrepreneurs doing all they can. I think it's a good idea. It's going to have to happen sometime, and restricting it to national governments isn't necessarily all that great an idea.

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