Currently, there are a staggering amount of man-made objects floating around in our planets orbit. Most of which are of course satellites.
However, it may surprise you to hear that a lot of these objects are useless, floating space age relics and this so-called 'space debris' is quickly becoming a problem.
You see working on satellites in space is prohibitively expensive so once a satellite breaks down or becomes outdated, the lights go out and it just, well.... dies. The space debris problem has long been foreseen however as a significant boundary to launching new satellites.
Robotics to facilitate practical 'satellite rehab'
Just recently, a company called Olis Robotics announced receipt of a grant from the U.S. Air Force to streamline the control systems of robots that could operate in space to make 'satellite rehab' practical. Their focus is to expand the capabilities of pilot-controlled service robots in dynamic environments like space, deep oceans and various field operations.
The software is designed to improve robotic dexterity, precision, efficiency and overall mission success, as well as to bring multiple piloted field robots under one streamlined control module.
The software approach also adds a lot of smarts to existing robots. The machine learning capabilities of Olis's platform could enable robots servicing satellites in orbit to assist pilots by performing multiple tasks with progressive levels of autonomy. For example, reducing pilot error, increasing the probability of mission success and ultimately extending the service life of satellites.
As a result, satellites will no longer be disposable, they will become more like cars; updatable, fixable and soup-up-able. As part of the funding, the U.S. Air Force will also receive detailed data on safety, precision and efficiency improvements brought by the Olis platform.
Robotics companies like Olis may have a significant role to play by hopefully allowing engineers to update existing satellites and working closely with NASA and DARPA find a solution or at least slow the rate of space debris.