What's being described by Space.com as the world's first "flying satellite gas station" is expected to launch in 2015. The Space Infrastructure Servicing vehicle, as Canada's MDA Corporation calls it, will zip around and refuel satellites to extend their lives, perform repairs, and use robotic arms to nudge inactive craft into the "graveyard orbit," where they won't pose a risk to working satellites. That should help cut down on space junk. (Click to read another idea on that.)
But it's the potential for refueling that's the biggest factor for Intelsat, a Belgian-American communications satellite firm that signed a $280 million deal to be MDA's first client. It's clearly much cheaper to keep current satellites in orbit by giving them more fuel than to build and launch new ones. "This is a first-time-ever, huge, huge, huge event," said the director of the Space Protection Program, a joint project of the Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office.