The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a highly capable robotic arm that could make such a space “transportation hub” possible in the relatively near future, said former NASA astronaut Pam Melroy, deputy director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.
“We think that these space capabilities are not just about a single monolithic satellite with a few capabilities, but instead about a vibrant, robust ecosystem that involves transportation, repair, refuelling, upgrading and in situ construction,” Melroy said at DARPA’s “Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum” in St. Louis.
“Look at the great seafaring port cities in the world for inspiration, and imagine a port of call at 36,000 kilometers,” she added.
Thirty-six thousand kilometers (22,370 miles) is the distance from Earth at which satellites fly in geosynchronous orbit, or “GEO” for short. Spacecraft at GEO ,which include most operational telecommunications satellites , complete one lap in the same amount of time it takes Earth to rotate once on its axis, and therefore appear to “hover” over one spot on the planet all the time.
The idea, as proposed, is to build this station in geosynchronous orbit, or around 36,000 kilometers above the surface. At this height, it could enter an orbit that would keep it directly above a specific spot on the Earth’s surface, but it’s also too high to enjoy any real protection from the Earth’s atmosphere or magnetic field . This hypothetical station would need to either be shielded in some all-new way or, more likely, be robotically controlled for the vast, vast majority of the time.
The key to making all of this happen therefore lies in advanced space robotics “robotic arms very much like the one that was used to build the International Space Station, but with greater levels of automation and safety,” Melroy said.
“DARPA is building just such a robotic arm,” she added. “We think this is a critical capability to building a transportation hub that allows transportation to and from the Earth’s surface, from low-Earth orbit to GEO, and even beyond Earth orbit.”
This technology will help DARPA and NASA to explore further down into the vacuums and mysteries of the space .