Menu
DARPA envisages robotic satellite repair missions

DARPA envisages robotic satellite repair missions

Robotics could revolutionise the satellite telecommunications industry

A former astronaut working at DARPA believes a new breed of robotics could revolutionize the satellite telecommunications industry, bringing better services to consumers and resulting in less space junk.

Pam Melroy is working on technology that could lead to robotic servicing, refueling and upgrading missions to satellites thousands of miles from earth, well beyond the range of astronauts.

“Space robotics can create a revolution,” she said in an interview with the IDG News Service on the sidelines of DARPA’s Wait, What? conference in St. Louis. Melroy is deputy director of the tactical technology office at DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Defense Department.

Her target and that of DARPA's Phoenix program is the numerous telecommunications satellites that sit 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the equator and deliver television, Internet and other services to consumers, businesses and governments around the world.

That spot, 90 times the altitude of the International Space Station, is chosen because it’s where the orbiting speed of the satellite matches that of the earth so, when viewed from the ground, the satellite always appears to be in the same place in the sky.

The advantage is satellite reception with a cheap, fixed dish, but there are several disadvantages. The satellites are almost impossible to get to and, when their life ends, they have to be blasted into a junk orbit, further polluting space.

So Melroy is coming up with a better option.

150911 darpa melroy Martyn Williams

Pam Melroy, deputy director of DARPA's tactical technology office, speaks at the organization’s Wait, What? conference in St. Louis on Sept. 10, 2015.

She envisages a robotic service station that could sit in orbit and carry out upgrade, repair and refueling missions for the satellites already up there.

It’s an ambitious idea, but that’s what DARPA is all about.

Currently, telecommunications satellites last about 15 years — usually determined by the amount of fuel on board. When it runs out, the boosters that provide occasional bumps to keep it in place can no longer operate so its position cannot be controlled. That’s when they're junked.

Over that 15 year lifespan, the technology on board doesn’t change so it’s limited to whatever is state-of-the-art at the time of construction — imagine using a 15-year-old computer or cell phone — and should something break, it can’t be fixed.

Enter the robots.

150911 darpa phoenix 2 DARPA

An artist's rendition of DARPA's Phoenix satellite program.

“Right now, we don’t build satellites to be serviced, but once we have that capability, then you can start seeing things like modular, serviceable satellites that become routine,” she said.

If realized, it could be a game-changer in the telecommunications industry, which spends several hundreds of millions of dollars to build, launch and operate each satellite.

“We talked to companies like Intelsat and Eutelsat,” she said, naming two of the world’s biggest owners of telecommunications satellites.

“They are very interested in refueling and that’s because they have transponders that work. It’s a huge investment up front, but once it’s up there, there’s a huge desire for video from the ground.”

She said the U.S. military, which operates its own communications satellites at that altitude, isn’t as interested in refueling as it is in upgrades.

“They want the latest and greatest capabilities. Their satellites are up there for 30 years at a time and they want the latest thing, whatever it is, so upgrading is of most interest to national security.”

Here’s Melroy’s speech at the DARPA conference:


Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Featured

Slideshows

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours

The channel came together for another round of After Hours, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and partners descending on The Jefferson in Auckland. Photos by Maria Stefina.​

Kiwi channel comes together for another round of After Hours
Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland

Emerging start-up Consegna has officially launched its cloud offerings in the New Zealand market, through a kick-off event held at Seafarers Building in Auckland.​ Founded in June 2016, the Auckland-based business is backed by AWS and supported by a global team of cloud specialists, leveraging global managed services partnerships with Rackspace locally.

Consegna comes to town with AWS cloud offerings launch in Auckland
Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners

Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners

Veritas honoured its top performing partners across the channel in Australia and New Zealand, recognising innovation and excellence on both sides of the Tasman. Revealed under the Vivid lights in Sydney, Intalock claimed the coveted Partner of the Year 2017 (Pacific) award, with Data#3 acknowledged for 12 months of strong growth across the market. Meanwhile, Datacom took home the New Zealand honours, with Global Storage and Insentra winning service provider and consulting awards respectively. Dicker Data was recognised as the standout distributor of the year, while Hitachi Data Systems claimed the alliance partner award. Photos by Bob Seary.

Veritas honours top performing trans-Tasman partners
Show Comments