DARPA Unveils Robotic Plan to Reuse, Recycle Satellites in 2015

On Tuesday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced the next stage in an ambitious project called Phoenix, which it hopes will bring about the first demonstration of robotic, in-orbit satellite servicing in 2015.

The servicing, however, won’t involve the repair of an existing satellite—instead, one that has already been retired will be scavenged for spare parts. If all goes well, the antenna (or aperture) of the defunct satellite will be linked with one or more small “satlets” that will return it to active duty.

“[Phoenix is a] modest effort to increase the return-on-investment for DoD [Department of Defense] space missions,” Dave Barnhart, a DARPA program manager, said at a recent press conference.

It costs a lot of money to put something into geosynchronous orbit, and not everything that’s been put there remains active. In many cases, this is because of the failure or obsolescence of only some of their hardware, while other parts remain perfectly viable and functioning. (In fact, we already know they’ve functioned after launch and deployment.)

In short, the Phoenix project is essentially a very complicated recycling program.

“If you have the ability to utilize hardware that’s up there, you can do this at a lower cost,” Barhart added.

Reducing space junk

Although many of the parts of satellites are highly specialized or internal to the structure, a few standard pieces—the aperture, solar arrays—are easily accessible and can be used on hardware with different purposes.

Barnhart described a system where there would be a single dedicated launch to put the robotic servicing hardware in space. After that, the program would start looking for commercial launches with extra space and weight available. These would be used to send up small satlets to rendezvous with the mechanic.

The DARPA manager suggested the process would be akin to putting spare parts into the repair platform’s toolbelt. Once that was done, the orbital mechanic would move into the graveyard orbit and make its way to a retired satellite (with the full permission of the satellite’s owner).

Once there, the goal is to neatly slice off the aperture while avoiding creating additional space debris in the process. That would then be connected to one or more satlets that would handle various functions, like pointing the aperture in the right direction, transmitting data through it, and providing power for the other functions. The exact collection of satlets that get attached will depend on how much the program intends to get out of the aperture.

Obviously, something like this requires having a lot of different pieces in place, and Barnhart was talking to the press because DARPA feels they’ve made progress in many areas and are ready to work on the remaining ones. He mentioned that the robotic arm was working, and they have prototypes of the cameras that would help manage the approach to and grappling of the target satellite. The agency is now working on specific tools for the arm to use, and how to safely handle the charge difference that can build up between different objects in space.

The processes will involve a mix of automated and controller-based software, and Barnhart said DARPA is also starting to test the teloperations system, which has both physical manipulators and a touchscreen interface to allow ground-based controllers to have some direct input on events taking place in orbit. To demonstrate its progress, DARPA has put together a video showing a simulation of its future mission, with embedded images of the real-world test hardware and software that are being used to make it a reality.

Youtube Video, Phoenix Program Demonstration

140 defunct satellites to be targeted

What’s next for the Phoenix program? Some of it involves testing the hardware in more realistic environments. Barnhart talked about looking for “N-degree of freedom facilities,” in which the test hardware could operate. DARPA researchers also intend to start finding ground station providers that are capable of tracking the servicing satellite as it moves to reach different graveyard orbits while supporting a full virtual environment on the ground.

Out of the 500 satellites in the graveyard orbits, DARPA has identified about 140 that have apertures that should be good for harvesting. The program has been allocated $180 million over four years to get the demonstration mission off the ground, and the pieces are starting to fall into place.

Longer term, however, the program is likely to depend on launch costs going down and the ability to hitch rides for satlets on existing launch schedules. The aperture usually isn’t expensive hardware, and Barnhart said it was only about 2-3 percent of a satellite’s entire mass. By reusing it, however, Barhnart said you can get a larger return on investment for your initial cost and amortize it over a larger number of years. In the end, getting Phoenix to work should save some money.

Probably more significantly, though, developing the technology could save money in other ways. Apertures sometimes fail to unfold once a satellite reaches orbit, and learning to manipulate them in space raises the prospect of repairing those failures. Apertures aren’t the only thing that can be salvaged, either.

Barnhart said that solar panels are also an obvious target, but they may require more specialized hardware to do power conversion, attach wiring, etc.—he told Ars that these added another layer of complexity DARPA chose to avoid for the demonstration mission.

But if Phoenix ever becomes capable of handling these added complexities, then the program could potentially become self-sustaining.

Source: Ars Technica


6 Food Items That May Be Filled With Ingredients Not On The Label

It’s one thing to look at the ingredients on some packaged foods and be befuddled by the presence of certain ingredients. It’s another thing when the makers of those products are using unlisted adulterants to provide filler to the products you buy.

ABC’s Good Morning America has a report on the latest study on food fraud from the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, which runs this searchable database at foodfraud.org.

From the GMA report, here are six popular food items that are sometimes packed with stuff you won’t see on the label:

    1. Pomegranate Juice: The FDA has already warned consumers to be aware of faux pomegranate juice, and the folks at the USP say what you buy at the store is frequently adulterated with grape or pear juice, or maybe just added sugar and water.

    2. Tuna: The USP says that escolar is often mislabeled as “white tuna” for consumers.

    3. Tea: It’s apparently not unheard of to pad those teabags with decidedly non-tea ingredients like lawn grass or fern leaves.

    4. Lemon juice: Much like the pomegranate juice, food fraudsters will water down (and add sugar to) bottles labeled “100% lemon juice.”

    5. Olive oil: Many olive oil aficionados have complained for years that producers are packing bottles of olive oil with other, cheaper oils like canola.

    6. Spices: Like tea, it would seem rather easy to hide a bit of lookalike filler in some spices. Among the spices called out by the USP is saffron, which is not only incredibly expensive, but can be adulterated with food colorings.

Source: The Consumerist

Reddit Plea Leads to Funding for Cryonic Preservation of Deceased Neuroscience Student

Kim Suozzi, a terminally-ill neuroscience student with brain cancer, died at the age of 23 on January 17th. Her one wish before she died was to have her body cryonically preserved, but she lacked the many thousands of dollars required to finance such a service. In an effort to raise the funds, Suozzi turned to Reddit in August last year, imploring readers of the site to donate to her cause. That post led to a fund being set up by a group called Society for Venturism, a not-for-profit volunteer group that has raised funds for other cryopreservations in the past. That fund, in addition to the money raised directly from Reddit, was enough to pay for Suozzi’s cryonic preservation with a firm called Alcor last week.

As pointed out by io9, cryonic preservations can cost anywhere from $28,000 to $200,000, depending on the options chosen. They are only performed on patients that are declared clinically dead, and are usually funded by secondary life insurance plans taken out by the patient before they have died.

“Our hope is that technology will continue to progress to the point that Kim may have a real chance of living again in the future,” said Suozzi’s boyfriend in a statement provided to Alcor. “Unfortunately, the development of the requisite technologies could be decades or centuries away. Since Kim is no longer with us to explore and innovate in the field of neuroscience, she is counting on all of us to push for the innovations she had hoped to see in her lifetime.”

Now that she has been cryonically preserved, Suozzi joins the list of notables such as Ted Williams who have had their bodies preserved in the name of science.

Via: The Verge

Bluebird To Cut Care Costs By Using NFC

Sixty care workers in the UK’s Bath and North East Somerset area have begun using NFC phones to log their visits to clients’ homes.

Bluebird Care is using Advanced Health & Care’s iConnect Service to record workers’ arrival and departure times at customers’ homes via NFC as well as to deliver real-time task lists and data to the care workers’ mobile phones.

“The use of iConnect will improve efficiencies and provide us with greater transparency around care delivery,” explains Tim Rowland Jones, managing director of the local Bluebird Care franchise. “We’ll know exactly when our care workers arrive and leave customers’ homes and there will no longer be a reliance on paper rosters and follow-up phone calls between the office and care workers when appointments need rearranging.”

The switch to iConnect is expected to reduce phone costs by 10% and paper, printing and postage costs by 50%.

“We are committed to providing the very best quality of care to our 200 customers,” says Rowland Jones. “This latest mobile solution will ensure we continue to provide the highest levels of service whilst operating as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.”

Source: NFC World