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SwRI advances space sustainability with new in-space refueling craft
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SwRI advances space sustainability with new in-space refueling craft
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 02, 2024

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is embarking on a pioneering $25.5 million project under the Space Mobility and Logistics (SML) initiative, funded by the U.S. Space Force. This venture, in collaboration with Astroscale U.S. as the lead contractor, involves the construction, integration, and testing of a novel demonstration spacecraft dubbed the Astroscale Prototype Servicer for Refueling (APS-R). Designed for in-space service, APS-R aims to refuel satellites in geostationary orbit, potentially extending their operational lifespan.

SwRI's Staff Engineer Steve Thompson highlighted the issue of spacecraft running out of fuel while still being functionally sound, marking an untimely end to their missions. The APS-R seeks to address this by enabling the extension of missions through refueling, thus leveraging the full potential of satellites already deployed.

Positioned in geostationary orbit, APS-R will be capable of carrying hydrazine propellant from a depot situated in the same orbital plane to satellites requiring fuel. This capability is predicated on the compatibility of the spacecraft with the refueling port on APS-R.

Thompson also noted the emergence of other life-extension strategies, such as using thrusters to reposition satellites post-fuel depletion. However, the introduction of a refueling vehicle like APS-R adds a versatile alternative to these methods, broadening the scope for extending satellite missions.

The construction of APS-R's host vehicle will take place at SwRI's newly established 74,000-square-foot Space System Spacecraft and Payload Processing Facility, tailored for the rapid production and testing of small satellites and spacecraft. The APS-R, with its launch dimensions of 24-by-28-by-45 inches and a launch mass of 437 pounds, including propellant, represents a significant step forward in in-space servicing technology.

Upon completion, the integration of Astroscale's payload into the host spacecraft bus and subsequent system-level environmental tests will be conducted by SwRI. This phase will ensure the vehicle's readiness for a scheduled launch by 2026, marking a key milestone in space sustainability efforts.

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