There are hundreds, if not thousands, of retired satellites still in orbit. Add these to the thousands of pieces of space debris already present in the orbit and we have a serious threat to all planned manned and unmanned missions along with working satellites and the ISS too. Pentagon’s research wing, DARPA, is now planning to reuse some parts of retired satellites to build new satellites, right in the orbit, a proposal that could lower the cost of space missions.
When satellites retire, certain components such as antennas and solar panels are often working, but since there is no way to scavenge these parts, space agencies normally forget them and build new satellites from scratch. DARPA is now spending about $180 million to test technologies that could make it possible to reuse working parts of retired satellites to save money by recycling in the orbit.
The Phoenix Program, as the project is being named, seeks fresh proposals for interested parties for a key test that will happen in 2016. The test will see the launch of a demonstration mission to breathe new life into an antenna of a retired satellite. The vision is to develop and launch a robotic mechanic that can rendezvous with retired satellites and mine them for working parts. The mechanic will then use the parts to build new satellites.