Canadian robot on space station performs first satellite refuelling tests

Turning Dextre into an orbital gas station has the potential to not only save millions of dollars, as it returns …Dextre, the Canadian robot companion to the International Space Station's Canadarm2, is currently running through a series of simulations designed to show that it can thwart the best intentions of satellite engineers and perform a task to refuel their creations while in orbit.

Satellites are designed with the full knowledge that, once in orbit, they will remain untouched as they perform their mission and they will eventually run out of fuel and fall back to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. With this in mind, engineers make them as sturdy as possible, so that they can survive the rigors of launching into orbit, and little thought is given to accessing any parts of the satellite once their mission has begun.

[ Related: Canada's robot begins 1st satellite refuelling job ]

However, Dextre is trying to show that this doesn't necessarily have to be the fate of an orbiting satellite. The series of experiments that it is performing are to demonstrate that it is capable of gaining access to the fuel cell of any orbiting satellite, carefully and methodically working its way past whatever hardware that might be in the way, refilling the fuel cell, and then putting everything back the way it was so that the satellite can be released to continue on its mission.

Turning Dextre into an orbital gas station has the potential to not only save millions of dollars, as it returns satellites to work that would normally need to be replaced, but also to make Earth-orbit a safer place by preventing these 'out-of-gas' satellites from becoming dangerous space debris that could pose risks to other satellites or the International Space Station.

[ Related: Space station to get $17.8M inflatable addition ]

Mathieu Caron, from the Canadian Space Agency, goes into more detail about the mission:

For all the latest in science and weather, follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter.