BRIAN SANTO: I’m Brian Santo, EE Times Editor in Chief, and you’re listening to EE Times on Air. This is your Briefing for the week ending March 6th.

In this episode…

我是EE Times的主编Brian Santo,您正在收听EE Times on Air。以下是截至3月6日的本周播报。


Northrup Grumman just completed a mission to repair a satellite that is still in orbit. That’s the first time anything like that has ever been accomplished. We invited George Leopold, our resident expert in space exploration, to explain the details of the feat.

Northrup Grumman(音译:诺斯洛普·格鲁曼公司)前不久刚完成一项维修在轨运行卫星的任务。 这是人类有史以来第一次完成类似任务。我们邀请了太空探索领域的常驻专家George Leopold来详细解释一下这项了不起的任务。

Some satellites are fairly inexpensive to build and lift into orbit. For example, Tesla plans to deliver broadband services via satellite. It is lofting hundreds of them into low earth orbit at an estimated cost of about a million dollars per satellite. The most sophisticated satellites, which tend to be parked in geosynchronous orbit, might cost as much as $400 million or more to build, and if one of those satellites is physically heavy, the cost of launching it could double the price tag.

有些卫星的建造和发射入轨费用很低廉。比如特斯拉,他们计划通过卫星来提供宽带服务。 特斯拉正在将数百个卫星送入近地轨道,预计每颗卫星的造价约为一百万美元。 技术最复杂的往往是那些地球同步轨道卫星,其建造成本可能高达4亿美元,甚至更多,一旦某颗卫星超重,其发射费用可能会翻番。

The point is that some satellites are really expensive, and really, really expensive to replace. If satellites don’t break down or get damaged, they will eventually reach an end to their functional lives, and if they need to be replaced, well, that’s what you have to do.


Except now that's changed – and it changed only last week. George Leopold is the author of a biography called “Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom,” and he writes about aerospace for EE Times. He’s a regular guest on our podcast, and we invited him back to explain what happened last week.

前面谈到的情况目前已被改写——并且是直到上周才刚刚被改写。 George Leopold是一本传记的作者,该传记名为《Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom(计算的风险: Gus Grissom的超音速生活和时代)》,George为EE Times撰写有关航空航天的文章,他同时也是我们播客的常客。本期节目中,我们再次邀请了George,请他为我们解释一下上周发生的事。

BRIAN SANTO: Okay, so, George, tell us what the big deal was.

BRIAN SANTO: 好的,那George,请和我们讲讲这个大新闻。

GEORGE LEOPOLD: All right. So last week Northrup Grumman announced that they had successfully docked, basically, a repair shop satellite to an Intelset satellite in geosynchronous orbit. This is not easy to do. Orbital mechanics are complicated, especially when you've got two unmanned ships. We did the first rendezvous and dockings in the 1960s, and it took a lot of work to figure that out. So it's a fairly big deal.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 好的。上周Northrup Grumman公司宣布已成功将一颗维修卫星对接到一颗地球同步轨道卫星——Intelset卫星(通信卫星)。这可是很不容易做到的事。 轨道力学非常复杂,尤其在两个飞行体都是无人驾驶的情况下。 我们在1960年代进行了第一次空间会合和对接,并且花费了很大力气才能弄清楚这一点。 所以说这确实是件大事。

Apparently, Northrup Grumman did this on their own dime. There's a couple of different projects within the government. DARPA's got something going. And NASA's got something going as well. I think the NASA program is further behind. It's to grab an old land-set satellite. But the possibility of being able to prolong the life of satellites is a pretty big deal, especially for the satellites in geosynchronous orbit, because those are very expensive, just by virtue of the fact that they're flying at 22,000 miles up, as opposed to low-earth orbit. Northrup Grumman said that's where they think the business model is for those really expensive geosynchronous satellites.

显然, Northrup Grumman是用自己的经费完成这件事的。 政府内部在进行着几个不同的项目。 DARPA(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,美国国防高级研究计划局,简称DARPA)正在进行某些研究。 NASA的项目也有进展。 我认为NASA的项目已经滞后了,他们想要接上一颗旧的landset卫星(陆地卫星)。 但是,让卫星寿命延长成为可能,确实是件大事,尤其是对地球同步轨道卫星而言,因为相对于近地轨道卫星而言,这类卫星的造价非常昂贵,通常在位于距离地球22,000英里的太空中运行。Northrup Grumman称,这就是他们所想的,将商业模式运用于那些极其昂贵的地球同步轨道卫星。

BRIAN SANTO: Interesting. So the reason this hasn't been done before is, it's hard. What were the economics? Were the economics such that it cost less to retire a satellite and loft a new one versus fixing one? Or is Northrup trying to change the economics with this demonstration?

BRIAN SANTO: 有意思。所以这是这类工作在这之前从未被完成过的原因,这确实很难完成。 那从经济意义方面来看呢?从经济角度讲,与淘汰一颗旧卫星并替换上一颗新卫星相比,维修一颗卫星的花费要少一些吗? 或者换种说法,Northrup试图通过这次演示来改变这种经济模式?

GEORGE LEOPOLD: Yeah, I think they are. And I think they have. If you can extend the lifetime of a satellite by five years, I mean, you're going to save launch costs, building a new bird, all of these things. And not only will it refuel a satellite, but it'll check its health, it can move it to a new location, and then when whoever owns the satellite decides to take it out of commission, it'll move the satellite to what's called a "graveyard zone," which means it's out of the way of all of the other satellites in geosynchronous orbit, and it's getting crowded up there.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 是的,我认为他们是这样计划的。 而且我认为他们有能力这样做。 如果你可以将卫星的寿命延长五年,我的意思是,你将节省替换上一颗新卫星的所有费用,发射成本、新卫星建造这些的费用。Northrup的维修卫星不仅能为卫星加油,还可以检查其运行状况,并能够将其移动到新的轨位。然后,当该卫星的拥有者决定将其退役时,Northrup的维修卫星还可以把卫星移动到所谓的“墓地”,这意味着该卫星已远离地球同步轨道上的所有其他卫星。现在的地球同步轨道已经拥挤不堪。



GEORGE LEOPOLD: That's part of the problem. It is getting very crowded up there. I mean, you see SpaceX is launching constellations of 60 satellites at a time. So you gotta have some way to move these older satellites out of the way and eventually decommission them.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 这也是问题的一部分。地球同步轨道变得非常拥挤。我是说,你可以看到,SpaceX一次性发射了60颗卫星。 所以你必须得有一些方法,能将这些比较老旧的卫星移走,并最终将其停用。

BRIAN SANTO: Wow. That opens up so many cool questions. But the first one I want to ask is, the vehicle used to do the repair. Is that itself a one-shot? Or is that now something that's orbiting and can be used for subsequent repairs?

BRIAN SANTO: 哇。这就引出了一系列酷炫的问题。不过我第一个想问的问题是关于用于维修的工具卫星,它本身就是一次性的吗? 还是说它正在轨道上运行,且可以用于后续维修的?

GEORGE LEOPOLD: Yeah. It could be. The MEV-1 basically extended those service satellite, so that stack with the Intel satellite is going to go up to sort of a holding orbit at 22,000 miles. Then it will refuel it and stay with it and monitor its systems. And I think it then can undock and connect with another satellite, although Northrup Grumman has said they're planning a second launch later this year to move another probably I think... I think the client is also interested in another aging satellite (And by "aging," I mean about 15 to 18 years old) and dock with that and fuel it and check its systems and, again, put it in a new orbit.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 是的,它可以继续使用。 MEV-1基本上是这些服务卫星的扩展版本,为了与Intelset卫星对接,它将上升到22,000英里的高度,并保持在该轨道运行。 之后它将为Intelset卫星续航并与该卫星保持对接,同时监视其系统运行情况。 而且我认为MEV-1可以取消对接,再与另一颗卫星连接,尽管Northrup Grumman表示,他们计划在今年晚些时候进行第二次发射,以移动另一颗,我认为可能是...我认为客户也对另一颗老化的卫星感兴趣(所谓的“老化”,是指卫星已运行大约15至18年),然后将这颗卫星停靠并为其续航,同时检查其系统,之后再次将其移动到新轨位上。

BRIAN SANTO: To your knowledge, were the original satellites built in such a manner that this would ever be a possibility? Is there some docking, whether it's ports or just a simple grapple?

BRIAN SANTO: 据你所知,是否那些卫星原本就有可能是以这种方式制造的? 它们是否有对接端口,无论是端口还是简单的抓手?

GEORGE LEOPOLD: Yeah. I think basically Northrup had to work with what was on the intelsat satellite and figure out a way to grab onto it. And I think our story showed a picture of the initial contact that it made with a probe. And that pulled it in and then just used the structure of the intelsat bird to connect to it and then make the linkages so it could refuel, connect to its systems and do the maintenance work and then push the whole stack up to where they wanted it. So there's some pretty clever engineering involved in doing that.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 是的,我认为,Northrup基本上必须研究Intelsat卫星的情况,并找到一种能抓住它的方法。 而且我认为我们的故事展示了用探针进行的初次接触的照片。然后Northrup的卫星将Intelset卫星拉入,之后仅使用Intelsat卫星的结构建立连接,以便为其添加燃料,同时连接到其系统并进行维护工作,然后将整个卫星推到人们想要的位置去 。这涉及到一些非常精巧的工程。

And again, I asked Northrup Grumman if there was any government money involved. They haven't gotten back to me, but I know DARPA is very interested in this capability, not only for servicing satellites and extending their lifetime, but also removing space junk, which is the other big problem.

我再次问了Northrup Grumman公司,是否有任何政府资金参与到他们的项目中。 目前他们还没有就此问题给我答复,但我知道DARPA对这个功能非常感兴趣,不仅是维修卫星并延长其使用寿命,而且可以还消除太空垃圾,这是另一个大问题。

BRIAN SANTO: I was going to ask about that, because you alluded to that earlier in the conversation here. There's so much stuff in orbit, it's getting crowded, and some of the stuff in orbit is literally junk.

BRIAN SANTO: 我正准备问这个问题,因为你在之前的对话中有提到这一点。太空轨道上有很多东西,太空也变得越来越拥挤,而且轨道上的某些东西实际已经是垃圾了。

GEORGE LEOPOLD: Yeah. It's spent boosters, dead satellites. We've been sending stuff up since 1957. There's stuff of various sizes. There was a near collision a couple of months ago, I think literally over Pittsburgh, and they just missed each other.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 是的。太空中有消耗掉的助推器,废弃的卫星。自1957年以来,我们就一直在发射东西,大小不一的各种东西。几个月前有两颗卫星擦肩而过,差点碰撞,我记得应该是在匹兹堡上空。

Sooner or later, two things are going to collide, and then you have this cascade effect where all of these pieces spread out and increase the chances of more collisions. You've seen it in science fiction films. And it's true.


So now one of the requirements when you launch a satellite is, you have to have enough fuel left to decommission it. That is to fire the engines one last time so you can bring it down and it will burn up in the atmosphere and not hit anything, and hopefully chunks won't hit the land when it comes down. So there's definitely a major requirement for this, especially sending up 60 or 70 satellite constellations at a time.

所以现在要想发射卫星,必须满足的要求之一是得有足够的燃料在卫星退役时使用。 这是为了最后一次发动引擎,让你可以将卫星退役,使它在大气中燃烧掉,而不会撞到任何太空中的物体,也希望燃烧后的碎片掉落时不会撞到陆地上。这绝对是一个主要要求,尤其是当你要一次性发送60或70个卫星星座时。

BRIAN SANTO: Wow. Interesting. So space repair is a service. Possibly space clean-up. I know this is speculative, but is there any prospect of, if you can fix something, can you break it? In other words, sabotage.

BRIAN SANTO: 哇。有意思。 所以太空维修是一项服务。 清理太空垃圾可能是另一项服务。我知道这是推测性的,但有没有可能,如果你可以维修卫星,你是否可以摧毁它? 换句话说,破坏掉卫星。

GEORGE LEOPOLD: Yeah, somebody's probably working on that. I know of nothing in the open literature saying that anybody's talking about that, but I'm sure it's probably being considered in the skunkworks here and in Russia and in China. The Chinese and the Russians have pretty active anti-satellite programs, and one of the reasons is they know how dependent the West is on these satellite networks. So they've pursued ASAT programs. We stopped doing it in the '80s, because we realized if we keep blowing stuff up in space, we're going to bring our own satellites down.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 是的,有人可能在做这类工作。在公开文献中没有任何人在谈论这件事,不过我敢肯定,俄罗斯和中国的科研机构都可能会考虑去做这件事。 中国和俄罗斯有非常积极的反卫星计划,原因之一是他们知道西方国家对这些卫星网络非常依赖。因此他们推进了ASAT(反卫星)计划。 我们在80年代停止了该项计划,因为我们意识到,如果继续在太空实施爆炸行动,我们最终会把自己的卫星给打下来。

There are also ways of blinding satellites that we've worked on, the Russians have worked on this, probably the Chinese as well. That's the easiest way to knock out a satellite without causing all this debris and taking out your own satellites as well. The Air Force has done tests on lasers that could blind satellites.


BRIAN SANTO: Fascinating. That's a whole 'nother can of worms. Let's just be happy that we can repair the ones we've got, right?

BRIAN SANTO: 这真是吸引人的话题,但不会是你想去深入研究的问题。让我们就单纯的为可以维修现有卫星这件事感到高兴吧,对吧?



BRIAN SANTO: All right, George. Thank you so much for your time.

BRIAN SANTO: 好的,George,非常感谢你抽出时间参与节目。

GEORGE LEOPOLD: All right, Brian. Good to be with you. Take care.

GEORGE LEOPOLD: 好的,Brian,很高兴和你聊天,保重身体。

BRIAN SANTO: That was author and EE Times editor George Leopold. His article about the Northrup Grumman mission is on the web site at eetimes.com. It’s called “Satellite Repair Service Makes Its First House Call.” Or, if you got to this podcast through the web site, there’s a link to George’s story right on that page.

BRIAN SANTO: 以上是由著作人兼EE Times编辑George Leopold带来的访谈。 George撰写的有关Northrup Grumman此次任务的文章已发布在eetimes.com网站。文章题为“Satellite Repair Service Makes Its First House Call(首次卫星维修上门服务)”。您也可以通过点击本期播客页面上George文章的链接,直接访问该文章。

A day after George and I spoke, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, selected Northrup Grumman as its commercial partner for the Agency's robotic servicing of geosynchronous satellites program. The program objectives include in-orbit repair, augmentation, assembly, detailed inspection and relocation of client satellites.

就在我和George谈话后的第二天,美国国防高级研究计划局(DARPA)选择Northrup Grumman作为该机构为地球同步卫星提供机器人服务的商业伙伴。 该项计划的目标包括卫星在轨维修、性能加强、部件组装,以及详细设备检查和客户卫星轨位的重新配置。

That’s your Weekly Briefing for the week ending March 6th. The Weekly Briefing appears every Friday. You can listen on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher and of course find it on our web site at eetimes.com, where you can find a transcript of every podcast.


This podcast is Produced by AspenCore Studio. It was Engineered by Taylor Marvin and Greg McRae at Coupe Studios. The Segment Producer was Kaitie Huss.

本播客由 AspenCore Studio制作。Coupe Studios的Taylor Marvin和Greg McRae担任设计。Kaitie Huss担任片段制作

I’m Brian Santo. See you next week.

我是Brian Santo,我们下周见。


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