One day, robots will ascend into the heavens, take working parts off of dead satellites, and use them to construct new ones. That’s the dream of the Pentagon’s blue-sky researchers, and they’ve already gotten started in the laboratory.
The video (see linked article), released by Darpa on Tuesday, displays the initial stages of Darpa’s Phoenix project, an effort that began last year to make satellites cheaper. And the way Darpa wants to control those costs is to have space robots pluck functional antennas off of dead satellites floating above geosynchronous orbit, and combine them with small, modular “satlets” into new, longer lasting communications satellites. Darpa combined the footage of the lab research on the Phoenix component robots with a computer-generated rendering of how the project might work in space four years from now when Darpa tests it.
“The fundamental precept is cost,” says David Barnhart, Darpa’s program manager for Phoenix. “That is the bottom line: is there a way that we can completely rethink the cost-calculus of how satellites are put together?” Satellite launches are really expensive: think tens of millions of dollars for the satellite and then tens of millions of more to get it into space. And most of what’s floating in space is debris, junk and dead sats: out of 1300 “space objects,” Barnhart says, only 500 are functioning satellites. If Darpa can resurrect just a fraction of that floating junk, it points to a cost-effective way to maintain the U.S.’ edge in space."
Link to Original Source