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ISS Space Science

DARPA Aims To Reuse Space Junk 67

CowboyRobot writes "Space junk has increased to the point where pieces of it are colliding and breaking into smaller pieces. The problem is now so bad that NASA has had to modify the design of satellites to protect them from flying debris. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to turn disabled satellites and their components, including antennas and solar arrays, into functioning systems. They are hosting a conference on June 26 to explore how to build 'refurbished' satellites from already-orbiting material for less than what it would cost to build them from scratch and launch them from the surface of the Earth."
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DARPA Aims To Reuse Space Junk

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  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:27PM (#39824247) Journal

    on a bright spring day in 2020:

    Dammit. I think the Chinese just refurbished our operating commsats and used the parts in one of their early warning satellites.

    Seriously. If you can do this with abandoned satellites, can you do it with not-quite abandoned ones? The only difference between junking a car at the junkyard and stripping a car on the street (besides location) is the fact that someone still owns the car on the street.

    We're gonna wind up with satellites with no radio, no trim, and up on cinderblocks.

  • by Neil Watson ( 60859 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:32PM (#39824313) Homepage

    Start with mining orbital junk before heading out to the asteroids. Must be plenty of useful metals and minerals to recover via automatic factories.

  • by AdrianKemp ( 1988748 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:35PM (#39824343)

    I wonder if someone at the table when the first satellites were being designed brought up the issue of (physical access) russian hacking once they were in orbit...

    I imagine they probably did, huh? The paranoia at the time was incredible.

  • Re:Good Idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by johanwanderer ( 1078391 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:43PM (#39824459)
    There's a non trivial amount of fuel involved in changing an orbital object's speed, inclination, or trajectory: []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:48PM (#39824513)

    That is one reason why the Shuttle was designed to have such large wings, to handle landing from polar orbit per USAF requirements. The Shuttle would launch from Vandenburg, complete one orbit, grab a Soviet bird over the US/Eastern Pacific (out of sight of Soviet observatories), complete another orbit and land at Vandenburg again. The problem with launching from Vandenburg is that there's nowhere to the West of it to land without going to Hawaii, so the Shuttle would need the lift to glide back to Vandenburg upon reentry or else everyone would know something was up when the Shuttle was carried back.

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @02:48PM (#39824517)

    If you can do this with abandoned satellites, can you do it with not-quite abandoned ones?

    Satellites are often abandoned due to running out of fuel. I've read that a number of new satellites are being fitted with a standard fuel connector so they could be refueled at some point in the future; no such 'tanker' exists yet but if the market is big enough someone may build it.

    From what I remember another problem is that solar panel output declines over time, but that's probably a less important issue.

  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Friday April 27, 2012 @03:57PM (#39825487) Journal

    The problem is simple, and was predicted long ago: In the Kessler Syndrome [] we have a cascading effect where every collision begets more collisions which create more, smaller bullets which impact... you see the cycle yet?

    We really, desperately need to do two things:

    1) Find a cheap way to collect the garbage.
    2) Find a cheap way to get to space.

    While rockets are nice and all, we really need something like a Space Elevator [] or a ground-based Launch Loop [] in order to commoditize space travel sufficiently that things like space-junk shielding can become the norm.

    Also, why is all this junk going in all directions? It would seem appropriate to coordinate the launches and orbits so that there are "tubes" of orbit where everything goes in more or less the same direction so that collisions don't occur.

    Aircraft do this - planes going east fly at odd elevations (11,000 feet, 13,000 feet, etc) and west at even elevations. (10,000, 12,000, etc) Why can't satellites?

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982