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DARPA Developing 'Droid' Satellites 80

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the take-me-to-your-gallon dept.
eliot1785 writes "DARPA is now developing a new breed of satellites that can be precision-maneuvered in unison and easily perform advanced operations with built-in sensors, computers and thrusters. From the article: 'David Miller, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Space Systems Laboratory, says such satellites might be used for such tasks as building giant space telescopes and closely monitoring Earth. The shuttle Discovery last week delivered the second of three satellite test "droids" that are undergoing experiments at the International Space Station.'"
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DARPA Developing 'Droid' Satellites

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  • by plover (150551) * on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:31PM (#15702775) Homepage Journal
    Colin POWELL
    I think we've got nothing, sir. The report is only a fragment from a probe droid in the Gulf states, but it's the best lead we've had.

    Donald RUMSFELD
    [ irritated ]
    We have thousands of probe droids searching Iraq. I want justification, not proof!

    POWELL
    The visuals indicate oil, but no terrorists.

    RUMSFELD
    We could make it mean anything. As long as we ignored every other lead...

    POWELL
    But, sir, Iraq is supposed to be devoid of terrorists.

    Lord BUSH
    You found something?

    RUMSFELD
    Yes, my lord.
    [ He points to a blurry image of an oil well on a monitor ]

    BUSH
    That's it. The terrarists are there.

    POWELL
    My lord, there are so many uncharted settlements. It could be smugglers, it could be...

    BUSH
    That is the system. And I'm sure bin Laden is with them. Set your course for Baghdad. General POWELL, prepare your men.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:35PM (#15702793)
    With this technology, rogue nations and other terrorist organizations can't time and wait for our spy satellites to pass by and not have their nefarious schemes being watched.

    Hopefully this will also speed up the time the intelligence agencies can spy on a place when a crisis or situation occurs.
    • With this technology, rogue nations and other terrorist organizations can't time and wait for our spy satellites to pass by and not have their nefarious schemes being watched. Hopefully this will also speed up the time the intelligence agencies can spy on a place when a crisis or situation occurs.

      How does one start a 'vote on this topic' counter thru the forums?
      ... I mean, Who really thinks these are "our" military spy satellites?

      But gotta love testing these on the ISS, all that peaceful uses of

  • by postbigbang (761081) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:37PM (#15702805)
    These nine pound balls of your spacial tax dollars could become:

    1) garbage collectors for all the space junk out there in orbit around us
    2) a new and interesting way of getting rid of those pesky competing satellites
    3) spiffy stratosphere-bouncing little comm links
    4) ways to make sure that Indian satellites don't achieve orbit
    5) new and interesting ways of avoiding Azimov's Laws of Robots-- including the Zeroeth Law

    It was inevitable.
    • You made a few mistakes, this is DARPA we are talking about, so it should be:

      1) Space recycler, makes space junk into man-made aimable meteors.
      2) The REAL off switch for competing positional systems and other countries targeting satellites.
      3) No change needed, you were dead on.
      4) Control who gets to space.
      5) Guarantee that SkyNet is undefeatable, and that resistance will be futile.
      • 1) be happy that these didn't go into the drink (and stop worrying about that foam stuff)
        2) it only cost $14B per space ball
        3) they're rumored to bounce!
        4) they're using WiFi, but on Channel 14 (at least it's MIMO!)
        5) they can be used to fix the Hubble!!

    • In all seriousness, #1 would be an incredible idea.
    • Actually, bad article, too. Wonders never cease.

      The satellites the "article" talks about are the result of MIT and DARPA's Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES [mit.edu]...sounds like they were stretching a little bit to get decent sounding acronym). The immediate focus of research is to develop control systems for automated docking, with later potential applications of station-keeping and maybe even satellite repair. For example, you may recall a DoD satellite repair mis
  • the obvious use (Score:5, Informative)

    by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:40PM (#15702818) Homepage
    From the article: 'David Miller, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Space Systems Laboratory, says such satellites might be used for such tasks as building giant space telescopes and closely monitoring Earth.

    Or the obvious use for DARPA, destroying other satellites. (Conveniently left off the list.)
    • Re:the obvious use (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You forgot the even more obvious one. Harder to destroy since having a cloud of thousands of them could be considerably harder to take out than a few big satellites.
      • Probably not. Smaller size = less room for shielding = greater susceptibility to EMP. Pop a nuke high enough to make sure the EMP doesn't affect your terrestrial assets[0], and you're good to go. You'd need less precision than taking out a single target, and you could probably effectively clear a hemisphere with a half-dozen or so strikes.

        [0] Presumably EMP-hardened military assets, anyway. Kiss those VHS archives of Blossom goodbye!
    • Re:the obvious use (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kilonad (157396) * on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @09:14PM (#15702947)
      Anytime DARPA or any other defense agency mentions "telescopes" they're usually referring to the kind that point down, not up. I see this as a potential test bed for a possible future interferometry-based spy satellite (be it SIGINT or IMINT).
      • Re:the obvious use (Score:1, Insightful)

        by eplossl (242870)
        While I agree with the previous poster, I would also note that such a satellite would, almost certainly, also be very useful to have from an astronomical standpoint. Think VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) or ULBI (ultra-long baseline interferometry). With enough of these satellites all working together and spread over an appropriate distance, we could potentially get a lot of information about neighboring solar systems. Add to that the possibility of using these sorts of devices for remote survey
        • While quite useful, remember that anything you see in the astronomy community is old-hat by defense standards. So if NASA is going to build an interferometer-based "terrestrial planet finder," then your guess is as good as mine (since I don't have clearance).
      • Perhaps some kind of a communal observation system [wikipedia.org]? Or a Less benign version? [schlockmercenary.com]
      • Now just couple this with droid guns [vobbo.com] and we're in for quite the show.
    • Umm... they already have that.. Ground based lasers with adaptive optics. Other Satellites with "Birlliant Pebbles" launched at high velocity to look like a minor asteroid impact... Shall I continue?
  • by Digitus1337 (671442) <`moc.liamtoh' `ta' `sutigid_kl'> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:44PM (#15702834) Homepage
    ...they weren't the droids I was looking for.
  • Take me to your four quarts of liquid? wha?

  • by Van Cutter Romney (973766) <sriram...venkataramani@@@geemail...com> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @08:57PM (#15702887)
    What are 'druid' satellites? Do they go around in the sky casting spells?

    Oh wait, that was droid. Never mind.
  • Would somebody care to explain what that's supposed to mean?

  • by j0se_p0inter0 (631566) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @09:14PM (#15702945)
    If they don't make the "DREGALARABADRAB-DEAGALARBAB" sound like they did in Star Wars, I'll bee disappointed no matter what the scientific outcome.
  • Just read the article. Now all we need is light sabers to really have fun with these things!
  • But will they maintain the Arks we send out, after funding for their maintenance is cut off?
  • by solitas (916005) on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @10:10PM (#15703153)
    "I [David Miller, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Space Systems Laboratory] rented the first 'Star Wars' movie and showed (a) class the scene where Luke is practicing the use of the Force with a floating droid," Miller told the Christian Science Monitor. "I said: 'I want three of those. How do we start doing this?'"

    ...that an educational administrator can watch a 'Saturday morning serial'-kind of movie and can "start doing this" by finding enough budgetary feebs at NASA & DARPA that'll give him a wet-dream-amount of OUR tax $$$ for "satellites [that] might be used for such tasks as building giant space telescopes and closely monitoring Earth".

    Yeah - "might": just about as plausible as defending the Earth from the FSM [wikipedia.org], or killing the Ori [wikipedia.org], or letting us know when the Vogons [wikipedia.org] arrive. WTF - don't we already have sufficient technology for satellites that can "closely" monitor the Earth?

    More likely they'll just end-up being more orbital junk endangering something-or-other or making pretty, bright flashes when they de-orbit. Yeah, Miller - keep finding gov't funding for practically anything for MIT or else the management might look for someone who can.

  • I can't believe that joke hasn't been posted yet.
  • to smell a new olympic sport? In sports news: The Cornish spokesperson for the British Olympic Synchronised Sattelite team was at pains to avoid the media today; his only statement "We doon't reeeally know wheear thay arr"
  • Droids? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ScaryFroMan (901163) <scaryfroman@@@hotmail...com> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @11:41PM (#15703411)
    How are these droids? 'Droid is short for Android, as in a human-shaped robot. And while this definition may not hold fast in a galaxy far, far away, it most definately does for us. Why not just say "Robot?"
    • Because Robot is a Russian invention, you insensitive clod!

      (RUR -- Rossum's Universal Robots)

      • Because Robot is a Russian invention, you insensitive clod!

        Karel Capek, the creator of the word "robot", was from what is now the Czech Republic. That is hundreds and hundreds of miles away from Russia, and the word is derived from the Czech language, which split off from the ancestor common with Russian some 1500 years ago. Do you think it'd be accurate if, say, American inventor Thomas Edison were referred to as Guatemalan? We're talking about the same cultural and geographical distance between Capek a

    • "How are these droids? 'Droid is short for Android, as in a human-shaped robot. And while this definition may not hold fast in a galaxy far, far away, it most definately does for us. Why not just say "Robot?""

      You clearly answered yor own question... they aren't called androids because they fall short of the human shape!
    • Agreed. I believe in Star Wars, the floating training device is referred to by Luke as a "remote":

      "You know, I could almost see the remote..."

      Sad that I can quote Star Wars scripts without having to fish out the DVD... ;-)
  • But I hear he managed to avoid involvement in the Clone Wars...
  • Is it paranoid? You see...

    I once had a droid
    that was paranoid
    as much as i tried
    tried hard to avoid
    upsetting my droid
    it shook, screeched and buzzed
    and stared into the void
    i told him "hey, chill!"
    my pretty boy and droid
    I crooned, shook and danced
    and I played him pretty tunes
    from andrew weber loyd
    oh i got that name wrong
    but whatever heck nevermind
    oh i'm so very annoyed
    where is his warranty card
    he got me, too, paranoid
    let's take his ass to shop
    before he had deployed
    newfangled nasty tech
    alarms, weapons and toyed
  • There is a bit more information here [blogspot.com] and here [mit.edu] about SPHERES including images and video at MIT.

    These puppies are not quite "bowling ball" shaped.

  • by Alex Belits (437) * on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @07:45AM (#15704461) Homepage
    ...start developing their own ideas, and not just turn science fiction movies props into toys? Sure, Arthur C Clarke had some pretty good ideas (having a goal to make realistic things in the first place -- what Star Wars never had), but even trying to make something that looks like a shuttle from "2001" movie ended up a rather suboptimal vehicle (that was obsolete in a *real* 2001, leave alone now).

    Can anyone please tell us, what would be the projected lifetime of those things in open space with ways of storing energy/fuel that are going to be available within 10-15 years? That means, no thermonuclear shit, thermonuclear was 25 years away for 50 years already, thankyouverymuch.

    What about precision of movement while performing any operation that a drunk guy in a space suit over another space suit over pajamas won't do better? How many times the expected mass of that thing is going to increase to be able to use a screwdriver? Hello anyone? Did anyone think about any relevant technical issues at all, or the goal was to make a prop for "Star Wars VII: Palpatine Is Still Alive, Dammit" to be shot entirely on ISS (and released exclusively there, too)?
  • Did anyone else think of Metal Gear Solid when reading the word DARPA? First thing that poped into my mind.
  • Redundant Array of Expensive Satellites (RAES)

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