In this handout image provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), space shuttle Atlantis (R) remains docked to the International Space Station photographed by NASA astronaut Ronald Garan during a planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk July 12, 2011 in space. Space shuttle Atlantis has embarked on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station where it will deliver the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module packed with supplies and spare parts. This was the final mission of the space shuttle program, which began on April 12, 1981 with the launch of Colombia. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

< Go to Homepage

Futuristic Space Robots Could Save Existing Satellites—or Maybe Destroy Them

Robots designed to extend the life of satellites also raise concerns over potential weaponization.

The prospect of satellite-repair robots could have major implications for the health and lifespan of the critical devices that orbit the Earth. But to critics, such robots could also have ominous implications for each country’s ability to protect and defend their space infrastructure. A new article in Wired dives into the debate, just as NASA and DARPA attempt to make satellites last longer.

One major flaw of satellites is that they are almost impossible to repair—and incredibly expensive to fix—once they reach Earth’s orbit. But a service robot could change that calculus, making it more accessible and affordable to hack into the existing satellite to mend the problem. But the notion of creating a fleet of artificially intelligent repair bots has sparked fears that they could be weaponized by opposing governments to destroy satellites.

While NASA plans to launch an initial batch of service robot prototypes at some point in the mid-2020s, in 2021 DARPA will launch its own satellite repair bots, which have been built and operated by a private company. That company, SSL, has visions beyond simple repair, as executives have talked about using such robots for gas re-fuels and assembling machines in outer space. The future of space robots is murky, and not without substantial risk.

Read the full story at Wired