Old Satellites May Be Repurposed By DARPA
January 22, 2013

DARPA Aims To Bring Outdated Satellites Out Of Retirement

[ Watch the Video: Phoenix Program Demonstration of Latest Advances ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

One new satellite repurposing program could bring old satellites out of retirement, giving them a new goal as they remain in orbit.

DARPA said on Tuesday it is developing a new program for the old satellites that hurdle through space 22,000 miles above the Earth.

The goal of the Phoenix program is to fundamentally change how space systems could be designed on Earth and then sustained once in space.

An artist's simulation of the program in a video DARPA released illustrates how the technology would be applied. Some of the applications could include flight-capable robotic arm manipulation with simulated space contact dynamics, tool development for the robotic arm with unique gripping and adhesion capabilities, autonomous robotic control software and hyper-dexterous conformable robot modules in operations.

“Today, satellites are not built to be modified or repaired in space.” Dave Barnhart, DARPA program manager, said in a statement. “Therefore, to enable an architecture that can re-use or re-purpose on-orbit components requires us to create new technologies and new capabilities. This progress report gives the community a better sense of how we are doing on the challenges we may face and the technologies needed to help us meet our goals.”

DARPA said an upcoming Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) would be looking for additional technologies and capabilities, including low cost software and hardware for rendezvous and proximity operations.

This announcement will also including the interlinking of a multiple number of degrees of freedom (N-DOF) test facilities, virtual ground station operations to support the unique flight requirements of Phoenix, and a hosted launch for the Phoenix-developed payload orbit delivery modules.

“Our ultimate goal for the Phoenix program is to increase the return on investment of high value space assets by reusing components from non-functioning satellites that have already been placed in space through permission from their owners and techniques and technologies that allow for responsible, transparent, and safe processes and behaviors,” Barnhart said in the statement.

He said DARPA still has a ways to go, but they are working on the foundation for improving how space systems are built, with the goal of changing the economic model for space operations.