Satellite Servicing
Section 5.4.2.
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Repairing Satellites

Repairing satellites in the shop

Based on NASA's experience with the two satellites they brought home, it's probably not viable to return satellites to Earth for repair; however, with a bit of Kentucky windage, the idea is tenable.

The issue with bringing a comsat back to Earth is that it costs more to recertify the old satellite than to buy a new one. However, dead comsats repaired on the moon and redeployed using less expensive launch systems would prove their worth.

Servicing satellites in space

Most comsats go out of service because they have run out of fuel. If we can refuel them in orbit, we can extend their lives for decades. That forces the next question: keeping the satellite electronics from becoming obsolescent.

Currently comsats aren't designed to be repaired or refurbished in space. However, if the service were available, they would be. The heavy parts of a communications satellite are its fuel, tanks, plumbing, rocket motors, solar power arrays, electric motors, and antennas. Most of this equipment would not become obsolete unless there were a revolution in known physics. So the parts that need to be designed for in-situ servicing are the electronics boxes and software, low-noise amplifiers, and anything with moving parts that is likely to wear out.

Satellite designers would also need to add handholds and grapple fixtures to make it easier to recover the satellite and work on its components. None of this is a massive design change, and some of the servicing equipment (handholds and grapple fixtures) might be added to existing satellites. So altogether this looks like a viable business for a satellite repair company operating from the moon or a spaceborne habitat (built from lunar material, of course) situated outside Earth's radiation belts.

Satellite Servicing

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