The inventive folks at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s blue-sky research arm, are spending $180 million on a robot that can repair, recycle and rebuild defunct satellites in space.
The idea is to save money by taking advantage of those parts of an inoperative satellite that still work, like antennas and solar panels, according to The Associated Press.
Plans call for a launch in 2016 to try to repair a decommissioned satellite. Such is the legacy of our years in space that DARPA has identified 140 defunct satellites as suitable candidates to choose from.
Another legacy of man’s years in space is an orbiting cloud of space junk, the remains of satellites, rockets, fuel tanks, even loose tools. According to the website Space.com, there are 21,000 pieces of junk larger than 4 inches, half a million pieces measuring a third of an inch to 4 inches, and millions of smaller pieces, paint chips and metal fragments.
All of them pose a threat to spaceships and astronauts. Some of the heavier and slower chunks in lower orbits will eventually fall to Earth; others will be circling the planet for millions of years.
Perhaps DARPA’s robots could also do a little light housekeeping, removing some of the space junk while they are repairing satellites.