The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has helped establish the world’s computer networking and technology in the air, land, sea and space—and now they’re turning their intelligent eyes to recycling. Once satellites stop functioning, they are caught in a veritable death orbit, adding to the collection of space junk that has been collecting since the late 1950s. Rather than letting the disused satellites orbit endlessly, DARPA is exploring how robots could be sent into space to recycle the dead equipment.
Around 1,300 satellites that are no longer working, orbit the Earth. In an unending and pointless path, they orbit 22,000 miles above us, seemingly useless. But Darpa’s plan not only gets rid of this clog of space junk, but could also save money.
Building and launching satellites is obviously an expensive undertaking. According to DARPA’s program manager, Dave Barnhart, costs could be seriously cut by repairing disused satellites on-sight in space. Under the name the Phoenix project (possibly named for the legendary bird who rises from the ashes), a set of recycling robots will be deployed to space to salvage parts from decommissioned satellites, and use them to build new, working ones.
It still remains to be seen just what these robots could actually salvage, considering the satellite elements have been exposed to radiation and extreme conditions for sometimes decades. The project could be launched as early as 2015.