DARPA soon to start building satellite repair robots
In this modern age, our lives literally revolve around electronic gadgets and devices. Without them, most of us would struggle to cope. Would you be happy to have no phone or internet for a week? That’s pretty self-explanatory. However, there’s one area of technology we all need to pay attention to: communication. In the past, communication could sometimes be very difficult. This was certainly true if the two of you weren’t living in the same town/village. But with telecommunication systems and the internet, you can contact almost anyone you like. It doesn’t matter whether they live locally or across the other side of the world.
Most communication we rely on depends on satellite networks. Now, since you don’t see them, it’s quite easy to overlook their importance. Or to be oblivious to them completely. In this article, we’ll be discussing the upcoming development of satellite repair robots. This may well be a step forward in satellite technology. One that will probably affect many of us indirectly.
Background to the problem
I can’t give you an exact number, but I can assure you of this. Right now, there are thousands and thousands of satellites orbiting our planet. I’m not referring to natural satellites. It’s the man-made ones I’m talking about. Satellites launched to serve functional purposes for the whole of mankind. This could be TV, phone networks etc. Now, just like any kind of machine, a satellite will need to undergo repairs at some point. That’s simply unavoidable. However, the satellites orbiting planet Earth are so far away. I’m talking about distances of over 20,000km! Due to this problem, it is very, very difficult to repair satellites in space. In most cases, it’s almost literally impossible.
So, satellites are now built with secondary systems on board. These basically serve as a backup to keep it working if anything goes wrong. But even with these provisions in place, issues still arise. This then leaves us with two different options. The first is to send astronauts to try and repair the satellites manually. That’s assuming they’re lucky enough to find it in the first place. The second option is to simply launch a brand-new satellite to replace the old one. Now, from a financial standpoint, the second option is always going to be easier. As a result, most satellites are simply disused even after developing the slightest malfunction! This is one of the main causes of accumulating space junk around our planet.
DARPA to the rescue
DARPA is a specialised branch of the US Department of Defence. Their job is to basically develop “next-gen” technology. Now, this could be for a wide range of purposes including military, space, security etc. In order to solve this problem, DARPA is embarking on a new project. It now wants to start building satellite repair robots. These would collectively form a repair service for damaged satellites. At the moment, DARPA hasn’t really disclosed any specific details. However, the robot craft will be able to carry out multiple different tasks. As a result, they should then be able to conduct various kinds of satellite repairs.
For this to work, DARPA is reaching out to some of the finest engineers available. This is because the need for satellite repair robots is even more urgent now than ever before. Amazon has already made plans to launch thousands of broadband internet satellites into space. This might sound incredible, but they aren’t the only ones doing it. So, the problem of space junk is only going to get worse and worse. That’s especially true if there’s no mechanism in place to repair them.
If repairing satellites is hard enough, then this project will be a tough one. Before any product is put into service, it must first undergo testing. But more importantly, it must actually pass the tests to a satisfactory standard. Testing out repairs on geostationary satellites 20,000km + away isn’t going to be easy. That’s not to mention the amount of time required to actually conduct these tests. So, what would happen if one of the satellite repair robots broke down in space?? Well, I don’t have the answer to that, and I don’t think DARPA does either. However, progress is definitely taking place within the field of satellite repair technology.