DARPA Robots Learning How To Bring Satellites Back From the Dead

DARPA's Phoenix program will harvest dead satellites for parts to create a new space communications network

1 min read
DARPA Robots Learning How To Bring Satellites Back From the Dead

It's ever so hard to not write about DARPA when it keeps doing so much cool stuff. Today, we've got an update on the Phoenix program, which aims to create a new network of communications satellites by sending up robots to harvest body parts from old communications satellites. Insert space zombie joke here.*

A big part of the reason that satellites are so expensive is that getting them from Earth into space takes rockets, and rockets don't come cheap. And not matter how carefully you build your hardware, sooner or later it's going to fail or go obsolete, and from that point on, your space-based investment is useless to everybody. DARPA's idea is to start a sort of on-orbit recycling program, where robotic spacecraft are sent out to harvest valuable parts (like antennas) from otherwise derelict satellites, and then give them a new life by attaching new minisats to the old hardware.

What's so fantastic about this video is that it's not just showing some fantasy concept stuff (which DARPA does a lot of), but rather DARPA is saying "this is where we want to be, and this is where we are." The Phoenix program isn't even a year old yet, but a demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in 2016, when a robot will remove an antenna from an old satellite and see if it can get it to do something new and useful. 

Via [ DARPA ]

*Q: How many space zombies does it take to disassemble a satellite?


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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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