London, June 30 : Three European aerospace engineers have said that space agencies and satellite operators should accelerate their efforts to develop robotic mechanics that can ply various Earth orbits, fixing errant satellites on demand, which would help in repairing failing spacecraft much more economically.
According to a report in New Scientist, the trio of scientists includes Alex Ellery, Joerg Kreidsel and Bernd Sommer.
The scientists argue that crewed satellite repair missions, like the ones flown by NASA to fix the ailing Hubble Space Telescope, are expensive, wasteful and set the wrong agenda for the space community.
The feasibility of in-orbit repair by a robot has already been demonstrated, with the Pentagon coaxing a robot called Astro into autonomously docking with NextSat, a prototype serviceable craft, and replacing a dead battery.
But the researchers said that despite the need, progress has generally been slow.
Satellites are not yet particularly reliable, with navigation and thruster failures commonplace. ince failures are costly and insurance is expensive, the industry has ample reason to pursue cheaper and safer alternatives to human mechanics.
"Scepticism of robotic in-orbit servicing is wasting the space sector vast amounts of money," said the scientists. "There are few industries which would willingly spend 100 million dollars on highly designed, long-lived hardware without the provision for repair and upgrade," they added.