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

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

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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