We are helping NASA design an unmanned spacecraft to service satellites
Satellites gather important data about the Earth’s surface and weather patterns, and it’s our job to help ensure that these complex instruments fulfill their missions.
Our team of engineers supports these satellites in two specific ways. We help design, test, implement, and manufacture a spacecraft that will robotically refuel satellites in space. And we review the design and build of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) next-generation polar-orbiting satellites.
Typically, these would be separate programs; here, we are a one-stop shop performing engineering and integration. We provide an entire workforce of engineers—electrical, mechanical, thermal, systems, software—to streamline efforts, and we can scale the team as needed.
A robot with a toolbox
The job of refueling satellites is costly and risky to human life. Restore-L, a NASA unmanned spacecraft, will rendezvous with them and use a robotic arm to refuel them – like a tow truck in space.
Our Restore-L support encompasses the entire project – the autonomous docking mechanism, the robotics, the ground systems, the software, and the hardware – from design to build.
To refuel a satellite, Restore-L’s robotic arm will have to perform multiple tasks. It will use different tools to unscrew bolts, clip wires, and transfer fluid. Humans on Earth will control the robotic arm.
More than satellite servicing
“Everything that is being done on this mission is ground-breaking and brand new,” said Joe Poist, who manages our work.
Still, the vision for robotic refueling isn’t just about satellite servicing.
“The future is about going to the moon and Mars and beyond, about going into deep space,” Poist said.
Our engineers also oversee the design and build of NOAA satellites and related ground systems. These satellites measure global atmospheric, terrestrial, and oceanic conditions.
The information they collect helps our nation forecast weather events and understand climate change.
Since we review the work performed by other vendors, we act as an extension of NASA. Our team carefully reviews all aspects of each build, from defining the requirements to manufacturing.
The first of these satellites launched in 2017 and has a life span of seven years. The next satellite is scheduled to launch in 2021.
Our team has a long history of working on satellites. Most of our staff who support this NASA contract used to service the Hubble Space Telescope, the first optical space telescope, which launched in 1990.
FURTHER READING: See how SAIC supports NASA in myriad ways. Learn more through the stories below.