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DARPA Planning Satellite Recycling Program

Photo: Sophia Winters

Recycling is spreading far beyond its debut platform of Earth.

According to a Defense Department platform released last week, DARPA is working on plan to collect useful parts from dead satellites floating 22,000 miles above the planet in the geosynchronous orbit.

The plan, coined Phoenix Program, will be collecting spare satellite parts — mainly antennas — in an effort to save the government millions they spend on each satellite launch. Experts believe there are close to 100 useless satellites floating in what has become an outer space graveyard.

The way Phoenix Program would work is similar to remote surgery procedures or offshore drilling according to pcmag.com.

“A big challenge is developing new remote operating procedures to hold two parts together so a third robotic ‘hand’ can join them with a third part, such as a fastener, all in zero gravity,” said David Barnhart, DARPA program manager. For a person operating such robotics, the complexity is similar to trying to assemble via remote control multiple Legos at the same time while looking through a telescope.”

DARPA hopes less expensive nanosatellites will be able to latch on to other satellite launches and then branch off to perform their remote control duties. DARPA said it will host two industry days in November to share more details with those who are interested in participating.

“If this program is successful, space debris becomes space resource,” DARPA director Regina Dugan said in a statement.

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