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Question Your World: Orbiting Refuel and Repair Stations?

Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never run out of gas while driving your car. This small and easily preventable inconvenience can be a real problem for getting to work on time or just looking smooth on a date. The problem becomes way worse when you’re far from the closest gas station. It’s bad enough to be stranded fifty miles away, but imagine being hundreds of miles away from the Earth’s surface and running into the same issue. Running out of fuel in such a hostile and foreign environment would be a really dangerous problem. Engineers and scientists are currently tackling this problem by designing orbiting refueling and repair stations, or as they call them MEVs - Mission Extension Vehicles. Learn more in this week's Question Your World Radio report by the Science Museum of Virginia.

Thousands of satellites become obsolete because of simple repair issues or they just run out of fuel. MEVs or Mission Extension Vehicles would be able to repair small items and refuel thirsty spacecraft. This new technology could help save tremendous amounts of money on replacements and launch costs.

In addition to repair and refueling services, they would also be able to help clean up some orbiting debris. There are lots of dead satellites and big hunks of junk in space. The non-functional satellites sometimes bump into the working ones and render them useless. This problem can be prevented by pushing dead satellites into a safer ‘grave yard’ orbit, far from our communications, weather, and government satellites. Even though space is big, this can be a real problem. 

Safety, cost savings, and efficiency are all great reasons for exploring this new technology. Once implemented, MEVs will allow for longer and safer robotic and human space operations. As of now there has been no official word from Starbucks about opening an orbiting coffee shop near these MEVs, but stay tuned…the future’s looking good!

For more information check out these resources:
Full service at Space Travel.com
1509 miles till the next gas station at Space.com
Gas station in the sky by Technology Review.com

Space Junk video by the Science Museum of Virginia

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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