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What Happens to Old Satellites? We Asked a NASA Technologist: Episode 30

What happens to old satellites?

Typically, satellites, if they run out of fuel or something happens to it where it’s just not working, it is essentially orbiting around the Earth dead. So what happens eventually is gravity will continuously pull on it and bring it down. If that satellite, upon reentering into the atmosphere does not burn up, sometimes you’ll find pieces of that structure on one of our large continents or in the ocean. We don’t want that to happen.

So if a spacecraft ran out of fuel or has a bad part, it’d be great if we could fix it. That’s why NASA is working on in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing capabilities. OSAM-1 — On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing Mission 1 — is coming to you very soon. There are capabilities and technologies that will allow us to sustain some of our key assets, so that if they have a bad instrument or they want to upgrade, we can do that in space. Essentially, that is going to help NASA explore and create missions that are going to improve our capabilities from the Moon, Mars and beyond.

So, what happens to old satellites? Well, currently they either burn up upon reentry or they remain in space dead. But all that’s going to change with OSAM-1. It’s going to be the game-changer that is going to help them become sustainable and upgradeable for the future. Learn more:


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