Space’s Roadside Service

There are a lot of different commercial reasons reasons for sending people into space. Tourism is one. Private research on space stations is another. But one of the biggest potential money makers is hardly ever talked about: satellite repair and upgrading.

Even if the cost of lifting satellites into orbit is dramatically lowered by companies like SpaceX, the machines themselves cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It is far less expensive to upgrade or repair a satellite than to build a new one. And the ‘reduced cost’ launches of the future will still run in the tens millions.

Right now, satellites are not really engineered to be upgraded and serviced. But they will be. Expect to see teams sent into space or even based there whose primary mission is servicing satellites.Think “Sparky’s Sat Service Station.”

Some satellites in geosynchronous orbits are hard to get to. But they will be engineered to use their last bits of fuel to lower their orbits to where they can be captured and serviced. Or a small robot rocket would go get them and bring them in for servicing – a space based tow truck. Their components will be upgraded or repaired and they will be refueled and placed back in service, extending their lives by years.

This will also drive standardization of certain components, particularly around fuel and propulsion. For example, new satellites might come with a standardized mount for a small aftermarket rocket motor that could be attached to them to help them get back into position faster and bring them down for their next service. Sending 10 of these motors or their fuel into space would be far cheaper than 1 new satellite.

Astronauts get all the glory, but pretty soon space mechanics may be much more valued.