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Robotic pump attendant successfully refuels test satellite

Dextre refuelling robot (NASA)

An orbiting robot developed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has successfully refueled a mock satellite using a NASA-built module in a mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The achievement represents an important step towards extending the lifespans of both new and existing satellites, which can become extremely restricted once they run out of propellant fuel.

Known as Dextre, the robot works in conjunction with NASA's Robot Refueling Mission (RRM) module, using a pair of mechanical arms to manipulate the satellite. As the name implies, it's capable of fine-grained movement, cutting wires and removing relatively small safety caps to get to the fuel tank — a video of the module's final withdrawal from the tank can be found on the RRM site.

Still, robotic refueling isn't the only solution to the problems of aging space hardware — a video released by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) earlier this week shows plans to break down and reuse pieces of so-called "space junk" in new machines, cutting and reattaching them while orbiting the Earth.

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