DARPA's vision for scavenging and salvaging dead satellites in orbit continues its trudge toward technologic feasibility. DARPA launched its Phoenix initiative in summer of last year hoping to cobble together a robot capable of intercepting, dismantling, and rebuilding defunct satellites even as they whip through space some 22,000 miles above the Earth. It's a tall order, requiring all kinds of capabilities that are less-than-fully mature, things like robotic autonomy/artificial intelligence, machine vision, and on-orbit satellite refueling. But if a new video released by DARPA is any indication, work on the Phoenix satellite scavenger is progressing.
That's not to say a vehicle launch is in the immediate offing, but the video above--illustrated by an animation of how each technology piece would work within the larger concept--shows piece by piece how the project is moving forward. And there are a lot of pieces to consider.
Phoenix will need to be able to rendezvous in space with newly launched satellites, on which smaller "satlets" will hitch rides into orbit. Phoenix will then remove those satlets (without damaging whatever multimillion-dollar satellite they are riding on) and carry them to dead satellites in other orbits. It will then attach the new satlet--which carries the electronic brains of a new satellite--to the dead satellite's antenna before severing the antenna from its now-defunct satellite body. The new satlet now has a perfectly good piece of legacy hardware it can use to communicate with ground stations or other satellites, and after placing it in the proper orbit the Phoenix vehicle can move on to its next salvage job.
None of that is going to be easy, but DARPA clearly isn't deterred by the challenge. Another Proposer's Day is slated for Feb. 8 in which the agency will ask for even more technologies related to the vehicles software, hardware, and satlet launch capabilities.
I really do like the idea of mining asteroids and salvaging junk in orbit. But... I don't think we will see any of it in our lifetimes. There's just no money and no ambition to mate with technology yet to be devised to do any of this. We're too busy fighting wars of politics and religion to have anything to do with furthering our knowledge.
<i>The virtue and perfection of cynicism is that you are rarely if ever wrong and never at all disappointed if you are.</i>
Cosmic junkyard assembling in space, I see the beginnings of the Borg from this article, then later, once mature enough and overtakes our most advance satellite and Skynet and Matrix are born!
I am so happy to be robot! ;)
Politics, and religion do get in the way sometimes, but progress still happens. Humans will get there within 50 years; have a little faith. Now, please excuse me, a Time Lord needs his beauty rest. ;)
I dunno, i have a strange feeling that platinum and similar metals will become much mroe important in the near future. And because of its rarity here on earth and what seems to be more abundant sources on asteroid. I can see the economical benefits of mining this in space. Also another way to get people to invest in space is the create an economic need. Like send small colonization populations to Mars. These colonies will need resources. Air, Water etc. And if a company can mine(cheapest way) and deliver these needed items to the colonies you just start an economy in space. Because your going to need repair bots, and potential manned space stations in case the repair bots go down, transportation, infastructure(aka telecom) etc.
This is about twenty years overdue. NASA says that they are having uranium supply problems, but we know full well that many of the defunct sats up there still have good 'hot sources'. That alone would seem to make this cost effective.
I've been wondering about that powersource problem of NASA's. We dump fuel rods every single day that have 98% of their energy left, all of which is now wasting away in pools and contaminating everything.
I ain't no NASA engineer, but I'd bet my house that I can find a way to use a standard, used, American heavy fuel rod in a satellite.