Service Robots Aim to Repair Dead Satellites in Orbit

Service Robots Work to Minimize Space JunkThanks to the U.S. Air Force, service robots may soon be in orbit to help collect space junk humans have lost or abandoned hundreds and thousands of miles above the earth’s surface.

A large number of manmade objects orbiting the earth no longer perform any function. Space debris is becoming an increasing concern as a barrier to launching new satellites, and the problem isn’t getting better. Having humans rehabilitate and update dead satellites would be extremely cost-prohibitive and dangerous, placing human lives in danger by having to navigate through space junk to repair the dead satellites. 

Service Robots Become Robonauts

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to enlist space robots to inspect and repair high-altitude satellites. This is timely, as the number of satellites is expected to skyrocket from the newly-established U.S. Space Force and other federal agencies and industries ramping up space activities.

DARPA is forming partnerships with teams to build robots that can maintain and upgrade satellites and develop spacecraft capable of moving the bots through space. The tech would also be able to check on satellites and service them as needed.

Space Robots Improve Satellite Technology

Since satellites are difficult to repair, they’re built with numerous backup systems for redundancy. Those systems add weight, cost, and unnecessary complexity. If service robots could perform the repairs, satellites would likely become cheaper and more reliable.

DARPA expects space robots to provide increased resilience for the current U.S. space infrastructure. Service robots may be one of the first steps in creating an advanced space architecture with capabilities we can’t conceive. Officials hope each system would be able to perform dozens of missions over several years.

Pilot-Controlled Service Robots to Take Flight

Engineers are working on a software platform to expand the capabilities of pilot-controlled service robots in space. The plan is to create software with improved dexterity, precision, efficiency, and overall mission success. Such software could help reduce pilot error.

Companies focused on practical automation hardware aren’t always in the best position to deliver streamlined robotic control interfaces, but a new aftermarket control solution would add needed intelligence to existing service robots. Robots servicing satellites could also assist pilots by performing multiple tasks with progressive levels of autonomy.