DARPA Unveils Plan for Robot Recyclers (Video)

First Posted: Jan 22, 2013 02:58 PM EST

Robot mechanics may soon be repairing and constructing satellites--in space. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) hopes to enhance future capabilities to reuse existing parts from decommissioned satellites and to construct new satellites in orbit. This could drastically reduce the costs of replacing failed satellites.

The new initiative, named the Phoenix program, will seek out satellites orbiting our planet 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface. Since many satellites operate in geosynchronous orbit, which matches the speed of the Earth's rotation and means that they operate in one spot above the planet, the cost of retrieving or repairing failing satellites is very high. Because of this, government experts have created a graveyard above our planet where satellites and other decommissioned spacecraft go to die. This one location keeps the old spacecraft from colliding with functional satellites; it also holds immense potential.

DARPA officials want to utilize this celestial graveyard and recycle components that are currently floating in space. The location could provide valuable materials, such as antennas and sensors, to create new satellites and to reduce waste and costs.

It costs tens of millions of dollars to launch a satellite into space, according to Wired. Of the 1,300 objects currently floating in space, only 500 are functioning satellites. If DARPA could reuse even a fraction of the floating junk, it could recoup millions.

Currently, DARPA and the Phoenix program are in their testing stages. Lab work will continue into 2015, and the technology being used to create these robotic mechanics is still being honed.

DARPA researchers plan to brief the industry about the Phoenix program on Feb. 8. Check out the video below to find out more.

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