The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) along with the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same branch of the U.S. military that created the internet, has launched a pair of prototype robots into orbit. At 10:10 p.m. ET Thursday, the technology, dubbed the Orbital Express system, was launched on an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. NASA uses the technology to repair and service satellites in space and one day hopes to use the technology to maintain weather and commercial satellites, and eventually use it for routine supply, mining and exploration missions.
Currently, only some satellites can be repaired by astronauts, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. The Orbital Express experiment consists of two satellites — the autonomous space transport robotic operations (ASTRO) service vehicle, and the next-generation serviceable satellite (NextSat). ASTRO will dock with NextSat to refuel and repair and exchange components, all without any human intervention, if the experiments go as planned. A total of eight tests are slated for the three-month mission, during which ASTRO and NextSat are to approach each other from distances of up to 6.9 kilometres apart, then dock, after which they are to exchange fuel propellants and trade and install batteries. If Orbital Express is a success, automated docking systems could replace human-piloted missions before 2020, according to NASA.
News source: CBC News