Assessing the Challenges to a Geosynchronous Space Tug System
Author(s)Richards, Matthew G.; Springmann, Philip N.; McVey, Michelle E.
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A space tug vehicle is designed to rendezvous and dock with a space object; make an assessment of its current position, orientation, and operational status; and then either stabilize the object in its current orbit or move the object to a new location with subsequent release. A subset of on-orbit servicing, space tug missions in the geosynchronous belt include stationkeeping of satellites which have lost attitude control and repositioning of satellites. Repositioning of spacecraft may be desirable as a means to rescue satellites launched into incorrect orbits, for the retirement of satellites into “graveyard” orbits, and for on-demand maneuvers that support flexible mission requirements. This paper aims to unify the political, legal, operational, and financial aspects of the space tug concept and highlight the challenges that stand in the way of an operational space tug vehicle. U.S. Space Transportation Policy is reviewed, and a space tug operation is recognized as an enabler of emerging national space transportation requirements. Customary international and United States laws are explored as potential constraining forces on future tug missions. A concept of operations in geosynchronous orbit, including parking orbit selection and approach strategies, is analyzed with emphasis placed on safety and reliability. Potential financing models and the issue of insurance for space tugs are discussed and identified as the principal challenges facing implementation of a space tug system. This paper offers a positive forecast for the future of on-orbit servicing and endorses continued government support for proof-of-concept missions.
space tug, on-orbit servicing (OOS), space policy, space law, automated rendezvous and docking
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