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How DARPA Will Raise Zombie Satellites from the Grave

Written by on Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Technology moves incredibly fast — and for a blog that regularly covers aircraft capable of zipping through the atmosphere at twice the speed of sound, that’s really saying a lot. For example, the smart phones of today look nothing like the bulky, simplistic cell phones of the 1990s, and they’re almost unrecognizable when you compare them to gigantic digital landline phones that were revolutionary 20 years ago.

It’s normally not a problem when old technology gets outdated by new technology. You just buy the latest model, toss or recycle the old one, and move on with your life. Things get a lot more complicated once you leave Earth’s atmosphere.

You see, space garbage doesn’t go anywhere. It just continues to circle Earth until atmospheric drag pulls it out of orbit to send it plummeting back to Earth. Gravity will eventually clean up old satellites for us, but it could take decades or even centuries for that to happen with certain satellites. So, what do you do with last decade’s satellite when your latest and greatest billion-dollar satellite makes it completely obsolete?

It’s simple: you cannibalize it. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency believes that it can create a way to scuttle old satellites for parts, launch modern gear up into space, and combine the pieces together to create relatively cheap patchwork satellites. Yeah, kind of like Frankenstein’s monster. It’s aliiive!

They’re calling it the “Phoenix program,” presumably because “Operation Orbital Zombies” doesn’t have quote the same ring to it. Here’s how the program would work: first, the government cialis online us pharmacy will send up a robot that will enter geosynchronous orbit with the old satellite. Next, the robot will drag the old satellite to the satellite graveyard where old and useless space ships go to die. At that point, the robot will be given free reign to pick through the old corpses like a crab fastidiously picking meat off of a dead fish.

Meanwhile, the government will launch “satlets,” which are like the basic skeletons of modern satellites, up into space for a rendezvous. The robot satellite will go all mad scientist on the satlet and strap on the older pieces to create a functional, recycled satellite.

The only hurdle in this rather ingenious plan is that it’s never been done before. In fact, it’s so off-the-wall that’s its left a few scientists doubting whether or not it’s even possible. DARPA plans to settle the question once and for all by performing an incredibly expensive experiment. They issued a bid to commercial companies for an old satellite that the government could use for tests. DARPA’s already sealed a $2.5 million contract with NovuWorks Inc. to get the ball rolling, so it seems fairly likely that the universe will get its very first resurrected satellite in a few years.

If this program works, all of the money that gets invested into the program should be well worth it. There is an estimated $300 billion in dead, useless satellites hovering above Earth, which is a technological gold mine that’s just waiting to be exploited.

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