US Military Making Space Robot To Recycle Dead Satellites

The US military is working on a solution to the mass of dead satellites surrounding the Earth. The Pentagon is currently working on a space robot that would harvest and reuse dead satellites.

The project is called the Phoenix program and is being run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). reports Phoenix program manager Dave Barnhart unveiled a video of the project, saying:

“Today, satellites are not built to be modified or repaired in space. Therefore, to enable an architecture that can reuse or repurpose on-orbit components requires us to create new technologies and new capabilities.”

The purpose of the program is to design a space robot that can recycle space junk back into usable satellite parts, or even completely new spacecraft. DARPA began the project in July. They are hoping to launch their first demonstration mission in about two years.

CBS News notes that the program will, hopefully, create a very small class of “satlets,” which are similar to nano satellites. They can be sent tot he GEO region as a “ride along” on a commercial satellite launch. From there, they can attach to the antenna of a non-functional cooperating satellite, creating an all-new space system.

A separate on-orbit “tender” satellite is also expected. This one would arrive in the GEO orbit, then would be able to work on other satellites in space.

DARPA is targeting 140 dead satellites still in orbit in hopes of being able to recover their antennae. Should the program be successful, it will help point the way to a more self-sustaining future where satellites can be modified and repaired while in orbit. The technology would help reduce the cost of maintaining US satellites.

[Image via ShutterStock]