DARPA Putting its Satellite Harvesting/Cannibalization Plans into Action
The program—called Phoenix—hopes to make use of all of the dead satellite hardware parked in geosynchronous “graveyard” orbits around Earth. While these satellites are largely out of propellant and loaded with old or obsolete technologies, some components—antennas are supposedly the primary target here—are still perfectly usable. DARPA envisions launching a largely autonomous servicing satellite armed with all kinds of robotic tools that is capable of rendezvousing with these dead satellites in space and stripping them of their useful parts.
But that’s only half the challenge. Assuming DARPA is able to build and launch such a robotic space salvager, it still needs a way to repurpose components on orbit. For that, the agency would also launch a bunch of “satlets”—small satellites stripped of all but the most necessary hardware—that would meet up with the larger service-sat in space.
These satlets could then be fitted with antennas and other hardware and parked in their own orbits, after which they could be used by the Pentagon for bouncing communications across the globe or feeding data like drone footage to troops on the ground.
Such a system could drastically reduce the costs of the Pentagon’s space program, which spends millions keeping its space-based communications battle-ready. But nothing like this has ever been tried before.
The servicing satellite alone would require a significant amount of robotic autonomy—it would need to know how best to dock with and dismantle a vast array of different satellite types—as well as a range of reusable robotic tools.
(via DARPA’s Satellite-Recycling Program is Looking For the Perfect Orbiting Sat to Dismantle | Popular Science)