New satellite initiative hinges on thermal management technologies

Cutting-edge thermal management technologies are being sought by the research and development arm of the Pentagon in an effort to salvage usable components from decommissioned satellites currently orbiting the Earth.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is spearheading the program known as Phoenix.

“The goal of the Phoenix program is to develop and demonstrate technologies to cooperatively harvest and reuse valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in [geosynchronous orbit] and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost,” the agency said in a press statement. “Phoenix seeks to demonstrate around-the-clock, globally persistent communication capability for warfighters more economically, by robotically removing and re-using GEO-based space apertures and antennas from decommissioned satellites in the graveyard or disposal orbit.”

According to DARPA’s official outline of the Phoenix program, there are a number of areas in which they are looking for innovative technologies that can help the project succeed. This includes a wide range of extremely powerful micro-electronic components and memory storage systems. These must be able to withstand the various forms of radiation commonly found in space.

Between the radiation and the heat generated by the components themselves, DARPA is placing significant emphasis on the need for thermal management of electronics technologies that are up to the challenge. Then – equipped with a series of sensors, diagnostic and robotic tools – very small satellites, dubbed “satlets,” can assess parts of decommissioned satellites and recover them for use in other active ones.

If successful, we could see myriad benefits, from improved connectivity for military personnel in the field to drastically reduced costs associated with global satellite communications.

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