DARPA to Repurpose Older Satellites While in Orbit

Last summer, Intelsat General announced that it had been contracted by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to be part of a unique project designed to demonstrate how satellites can be serviced in orbit.

Known as the Phoenix Project, this DARPA-led initiative would demonstrate how a robotic servicer spacecraft could take antennas, solar arrays and other components off older, decommissioned satellites and attach them to new, small satellite subsystem components called “satlets” – essentially recycling satellite hardware already in space.

Because of their small size, the satlets could be carried into space more economically than traditional communications satellites.  DARPA has developed the following video, which illustrates how this would actually work.

As we have highlighted on Satcom Frontier in the past, the issue of space debris is a major challenge with the U.S. and many other nations owning assets in near space, so the idea of recycling and reusing satellite components would be one way of clearing debris from orbit.

The Space Data Association (SDA) has taken the lead in addressing the space debris issue by enhancing information sharing among nations to increase the safety of flight, reducing radio frequency interference, as well as standardizing and automating the information necessary to communicate between technicians in operations centers during a crisis.  Intelsat General is a founding member of SDA’s and a leader in working to develop these standardizations.

As Bryan Benedict, Principal Program Manager, Business Development at Intelsat General highlighted in his Satcom Frontier post last year, the commercial sector would have struggled to put together an attractive business plan to fund a mission like Phoenix without the backing of DARPA.

Initiatives by DARPA and the SDA are advancing today’s efforts in managing overcrowding in near space. We would like to applaud both organizations for addressing an escalating issue that has even captured the attention of IMAX filmmakers.

 

 

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