The era of satellite-repairing robots is here

The era of satellite-repairing robots is here


– Let’s say you wanna build
and launch your own satellite. Well, you basically need to build a tiny hardened spaceship with a lot of sensitive robotic components that can function all on its own in the harsh environment of space. No problem, right? These instructions are not intuitive. Oh, and you also need to be prepared to never see your creation again. Once your satellite is
launched, that’s it. If it breaks, tough luck. But what if there were a way to give your satellite a tune up once it’s reached orbit
and needs some help? It’s a dream of many satellite operators who have lost their hardware in space, and it’s something that
a fledgling industry is trying to address. Today, you really have to plan ahead when building your satellite. Above all, it needs to be super robust. Satellites encounter
wild temperature swings from freezing to sweltering
while orbiting around Earth. They also encounter higher
amounts of radiation and energize particles
coming from the sun. We talked to two satellite repair experts, Charity Weeden and Jonathan Goff, about what it takes to survive in orbit. – So you have to build in
a little bit of redundancy, have reliable parts, design it correctly, test it, they call it the shake and bake, shake it on a table, cook it a little bit, see if anything falls
apart that way as well. – Even if you test and test, things still just break when in space, which is bad for your
company’s bottom line, but also dangerous and an
operable satellite instantly becomes space junk zooming around Earth at upwards of 17,000 miles per hour, and that’s bad for everyone else. – And the scariest thing is
dead satellites can’t dodge. So eventually, if you get
enough debris up there, the odds of a dead satellite hitting another dead satellite increases. – Enter satellite servicing. It’s actually not a new concept. We’ve tweaked satellites in orbit before, but people were usually
involved in the process. The Hubble Space Telescope has
been upgraded numerous times while in orbit by astronauts who arrived via NASA Space Shuttle. But with the shuttle now retired, there is no way for astronauts
to meet up with satellites. The solution. Create robots that can
do what the humans do. And that’s a tad more complicated. First, you need a
satellite that can meet up with another satellite in
orbit, which is no easy task. Remember, these satellites are
moving at super high speeds. This requires sophisticated navigation and control software as well as sensors that can tell the satellite how close it’s getting to another object. The next challenge is
grabbing the broken satellite. That’s even trickier
because the satellites in orbit today haven’t
been built to be grappled. That’s why companies in the
satellite servicing industry are really working on two things. The repair bot and the interface between the bot and its target. – We basically fell in love with the concept of magnetic grappling. – [Loren] Jonathan’s company,
Altius Space Machines, has developed a magnetic
grappling plate designed to be added to the outside of a satellite. On the plate are identifiable markings that make it easier for
an approaching satellite to figure out where the plate is and attach via its own magnets. – We have some solid-state
switchable magnet technology we’re working on. So you can stick to it with
the magnet pretty well. – Charity’s company, Astroscale, is pursuing a similar path. One benefit of this method is that it’s easy for the two satellites to disconnect once the update is complete. Unlike other grappling
methods, like say harpoons, there’s less chance of any extra damage or debris created during the process. To test out this grappling method, Astroscale is launching a
demonstration mission this year, which will send up both
a servicing satellite and a target with the plate on it. They wanna practice a variety of tasks, including disposal,
knocking their target closer to Earth so that it needs a
fiery death in the atmosphere. – We’ll conduct a series of demonstrations of attaching with it, losing lock with it and then searching for it autonomously and then finally de-orbiting
the mock piece of debris. – Taking satellites out of orbit this way could become crucial, as more companies vowed to send hundreds or even thousands of
satellites into space, knowing that a small percentage will fail. Once connected, a surfacer
could do quite a bit. It could refuel a satellite,
nudge into a different orbit, do a software update, or
even replace a broken part. Satellites today are not
built like cars, though. There’s no opening to their fuel tanks or a hood that you can lift. But Jonathan says it’s possible to make future generations of
satellites more accessible, and upgradeable. – Laptops aren’t really that friendly to open up and swap components
out most of the time, but they do have a lot
expansion ports on the side. So it’s like, oh, you
need to plug in a mouse, you can plug in a mouse in the USB port, or it could be an external hard drive or it could be some other peripheral. So we’re trying to start
pushing in that direction. – Of course, any new technology could be used in a nefarious way. Concerns have been raised in the press that satellite servicing
could be weaponized and used to take out a
functioning satellite rather than fix one in need. Charity argues that space
really needs to be cleaned up, not turned into a battlefield. – We continue to talk to people around the world about the benefits
of having satellite servicing and debris removal in particular. So this is not something
that we take lightly. It’s a responsibility for
us to make space sustainable for all future generations. – In fact, she knows that if this technology really
gets going in earnest, it could allow for much more
ambitious space missions. – Should we ever want to go to Mars, we’re gonna have to bring things with us and things will break on the way. So you’ll need to have some sort of repair function, refuel function to be able to make sure that
the mission gets accomplished. – This will be a big year for
satellite servicing companies to prove that their technology is sound. Northrop Grumman has launched
a demonstration mission to move a satellite to a different orbit. Astroscale is prepping for its launch, and Altius made a deal to
install its grappling plates on hundreds of satellites
made by the company OneWeb, which wants to provide internet access through a huge constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit. If all goes to plan, satellite
operators may breathe a little easier when they
launch their spacecraft. If something breaks, they’ll be able to call for a tune up just
like we do here on Earth. One time my mom got me the Taj Mahal in Lego form. It took me like a full
weekend to put it together and then I was like no way. Shoot. Okay, what do I do with the little tabs? I don’t like this.

37 thoughts on “The era of satellite-repairing robots is here

  • January 28, 2020 at 3:00 pm
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    Do you think this technology could cause harm?

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  • January 28, 2020 at 3:00 pm
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    Walter

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  • January 28, 2020 at 3:01 pm
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    Verge Science and Space♥️

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:02 pm
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    Woohoo i am first

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:02 pm
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    First

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:03 pm
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    First

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:03 pm
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    Space Wall-E incoming

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:14 pm
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    I am never gonna launch a satellite, still watching it

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:17 pm
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    this content is top tier

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:18 pm
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    Where can we get that model kit?

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:23 pm
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    1:43 FINALLY SOME GOOD OL' METRIC

    Thank you! We've been through this for at least the birth of this channel. XD

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:30 pm
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    4:18 you listening, Elon?

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:33 pm
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    If someone with malicious intent wanted to launch a satellite that will collide with another satellite, why hasn't it happened yet? I think the same principle applies here. Strict regulations for companies solely dedicated to satellite repairs.

    Sidenote: there's a good anime that focus on space junk. It's called Planetes 🙂

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:42 pm
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    Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before the governments of the world start destroying other nation’s satellites to start wars. I’m sure there are plenty of politicians salivating knowing there’s a new way to start wars and the all the money they can gain from starting those wars.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:43 pm
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    if pushing it back to earth so it burns up will work for you guys. Why cant you use a magnet to connect to pieces or satellite and use air pressure to push things back to earth.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 3:58 pm
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    Like every time there’s some amazing new beneficial technology people freak out and go “WHAT IF ITS USED FOR NEFARIOUS PURPOSES!!!?” Well, pretty much any technology we’ve ever created could be used for bad things or weaponized, do we just stop innovating and trying to solve problems?

    Were these people always around? “Germ theory? Nah, forget it, what if they weaponize it?”
    “Cars? Nah, forget about it. What if they weaponize it?”
    “Planes? Nah, forget about it. What if they weaponize it?”

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 3:59 pm
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    I was completely hypnotized waching this form start to finish.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 4:16 pm
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    The visuals are amazing 👍👍

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 4:19 pm
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    Ngl, this video feels like a lot of empty platitudes. Nobody is going to spend money willingly on cleaning space junk. Regulation is needed.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 4:44 pm
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    Thanks DARPA

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 4:45 pm
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    Pretty sure there orbiting Sats that have nukes in them , once deployed shooting it down in your airspace is worst than letting it hit.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 5:02 pm
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    #trouble

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  • January 28, 2020 at 5:10 pm
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    Any one else see the downside to this? Making satellites more accessible for software updates, component replacement, expansion ports.

    Wasn't the Iranian nuclear program brought down by a virus implanted via a USB flashdrive? Stuksnet I think, spun their centrifuges out of control and suppressed sensors to warn the controller iirc.

    Also, a repair satellite that can interface and deorbit satellites? No way that'll get used maliciously.

    Don't get me wrong this is all very useful technology. I'm sure others have considered it and dismissed it for reasons I've already listed.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 5:11 pm
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    Elon should invest in one of these companies . Much needed since, his sat company will be launching thousands of it

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  • January 28, 2020 at 5:28 pm
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    Name: Verge science.
    Used metric: "MiLeS pEr hOuR"

    Well this on the verge of bad science… I'll let myself out.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 5:30 pm
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    "Make space sustainable for all future generations" – I'm so on board with this idea. Making sure we figure out a way to repair or remove satellites and debris is obviously something we need desperately, and I can't wait to see how the industry progresses! It feels like it's going to bring about a lot of interesting ideas and new technologies.

    Great video as always Verge Science team!

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 5:41 pm
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    Forget rebuilding satellites. First construct a machine that can sweep away all of the space debris floating around the plant.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 5:48 pm
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    Great information! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 6:14 pm
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    Even when you use metric, you mess it up. No it's not kmph, it's km/h. If I read kmph somwhere, I wouldn't even know what it means. Could just as well mean kilo miles per hour, because when it comes to units the US really has no scruples 🤦‍♂️. When will the Verge SCIENCE channel finally get it right?

    Reply
  • January 28, 2020 at 6:24 pm
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    3:27 fail

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  • January 28, 2020 at 6:51 pm
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    1. satellite repair drones are close to becoming a reality.
    2. hubble telescope got several repairs and upgrades at the hands of astronauts.
    3. new satellites could be designed to facilitate robotic grappling and service.
    4. however, making craft more accessible raises concerns of sabotage.
    5. these satelites would need a degree of accessibility while keeping core functions tamper-proof.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 6:52 pm
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    I can really see a cascade event happening, a LOT of lose stuff orbiting up there.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 7:17 pm
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    SpaceX has been referred implicitly.

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  • January 28, 2020 at 7:38 pm
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    The lady in blue is using Samsung ' live focus video'. She could have toned downed the strength!

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  • January 28, 2020 at 7:46 pm
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    You need a dedicated rocket launch just to try to repair or update a satellite.. I think in low earth orbit is simpler to deorbit the satellite and replace it with a new one. Maybe this approch makes sense for those very big and valuable satellites that are orbiting further from earth..

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  • January 28, 2020 at 7:57 pm
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    What happens to the material that was used to make satellite when it de-orbit? Does it convert to gas or gone away for ever?!

    Reply

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