There are a ton of dead satellites currently still orbiting the Earth, but certain parts on these satellites often still work, such as antennas and solar panels. However, there’s no method to salvage and reuse these satellite parts once they’re launched into space, but DARPA is looking into it, and has launched a new program specifically for recycling old satellite parts.
DARPA calls its new initiative the Phoenix program, and they’re looking to spend around $180 million to test technologies that will retrieve working parts from dead satellites and use them elsewhere. Essentially, DARPA wants to save money overall, and increase the return on investment with all of its satellites.
Essentially, DARPA will launch a robotic mechanic into space with a toolkit that will be able to mine dead satellites for parts. There would then be a separate launch of multiple mini-satellites, where the robotic mechanic would then connect the mini-satellites to the old satellite parts to create a whole new satellite of sorts.
The Phoenix program is actually already under way, and DARPA has given contracts to several companies to develop new technologies that will eventually be able to scrap old satellites for its parts. The agency is also seeking new proposals from interested companies starting next month. The first test that will find out whether the program will work or not will come in 2016, when it launches a demonstration mission to one of 140 dead satellites that DARPA has picked out for this mission. It’s a new technique that’s never been done before, so while we’d love it if the program went off without a hitch, there’s always the possibility that it might not work, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed hoping for the best.