Satellite provider Space Systems Loral (SSL) and NASA have completed a key step towards building a spacecraft that can service satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), potentially extending their useful life and making it possible to move forward on building a whole new industry out of deployed satellite service operations.
SSL and NASA successfully passed the Preliminary Design Review stage for the Restore-L mission, which aims to combine robotics to create a platform for latching onto and refuelling LEO satellites. This means the Restore-L design has met initial mission requirements, and will now move on to a more detailed design phase to flesh out the specifics of the spacecraft SSR will construct with a launch window target of 2020.
Servicing LEO satellites could have a big impact on commercial operations in space as well as for existing U.S. government satellites. The initial Restore-L goal is to refuel an exiting U.S. satellite to extend its mission life, but once the capability is in place, it could easily be applied to private client orbital craft, as well as extended to be applied to in-place construction of new satellites, for easier deployment directly from orbital platforms and potential future shipyards.
NASA remains committed to a goal of commercializing LEO, and its ISS end-of-life strategy is part of that plan. Developing in situ satellite service capabilities is also a big part of that picture, so this is a promising step both for LEO and for more ambitious exploration missions beyond.