Monday, October 24, 2011

Satellite recycling

Now here is a novel idea. Those fine minds at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) have found a way to not only cull the swarming cluster of space junk around the Earth…but to actually take advantage of it.

Earth orbit is now a thick mess of thousands of defunct satellites, spent rocket stages, and overall just trash and debris. Each year that goes by increases the chances of more collisions between spacecraft, resulting in the potential loss of a high value asset (e.g. a military spy or communications satellite colliding with a dead MTV relay) and thereby even more space junk. The Phoenix program at DARPA aims to take care of that.

The Phoenix would be a robot in orbit that would go to dead satellites and remove the still usable parts, such as antennas and panels. It’s sort of like harvesting an organ donor if you think about it. Hmmm. Maybe they should call it “The Ghoul.” Probably doesn’t have the positive spin they’re looking for in a PR name.

Anyhow, antennas are big and therefore require copious amounts of rocket fuel to get into orbit. If small satellites could be launched without the antenna (“satlets”) so that the antennas could later be attached in space, it would save a great deal of money. Add that in with the whole “recycling” aspect of the program and you should have a winner. I can see the ad copy now. “Going green…in the black!”

Nice to see we have a little bit of innovation left when it comes to a space program, even if it is essentially a military endeavor. But will it be enough to prevent China from laying claim to the Moon by presence?

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