This past Tuesday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, i.e. one of the Pentagon's agencies) made it public news that, as part of its Phoenix project, it is to soon start collecting both old satellites and other space junk.Their goal is to lower the cost of future military space missions by recycling whatever materials are now simply floating aimlessly through space.
Thus, DARPA believes that some of these old space satellites contain various valuable parts that can be reused, seeing how they are most likely still functional.
The researchers who looked into this issue explain that, all things considered, antennas and solar panels are the most likely candidates for this innovative recycling program.
DARPA believes that the best way for them to get their hands on these recyclable satellite components is to launch a robotic mechanic and allow it to collect whatever parts can be reused, Daily Mail explains.
Once gathered, these old satellite parts will be linked to newly launched mini-satellites, thus leading to the creation of a new communication system.
Apparently, the launch of this robotic mechanic is set to take place as early as the year 2015.
Commenting on this project, a spokesperson for the agency made a case of how, “We're attempting to essentially increase the return on investment and trying to find a way to really change the economics so that we can lower the cost’ of military space missions.”
Despite the fact that several other specialists are firmly convinced that whatever sum of money can be saved by recycling old satellites will be far exceeded by the overall costs of the Phoenix project, DARPA is confident that its initiative will eventually pay off.
“The first few times you do this, it'll definitely be more expensive than just building the new antenna on your satellite from scratch,’ he said. ‘But in the long run, it might work out,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist presently working with the Harvard University.