Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre is developing an in-orbit test bed to test techniques for refuelling satellites not designed to be refuelled, through experience gained servicing the Hubble Space Telescope.

The experiment would use the special purpose dexterous manipulator called Dextre attached to the International Space Station to simulate the process, according to Aviation Week.

The refuelling technique involves cutting into a spacecraft’s insulation, tapping into its fuel plumbing, and refilling its tanks to extend its service life.

Hubble programme manager Preston Burch said that a prototype tool had already been developed that could cut through the external skin or insulation on the satellite, snip the safety wire on the cap on the fuel valve, attach the hose and turn the valve and transfer the fuel into the vehicle.

“We are laying the groundwork for doing that in the future funding that we expect will be coming to this team,” he said.

The study will also gauge how robotic and human servicing can aid several notional missions in low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and at the sun-Earth Lagrange points.