The Dangerous Downside to DARPA’s New Repair Satellite

Image: DARPA
One country’s orbital mechanic could be another’s saboteur.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s science wing, is developing a new type of satellite that can repair, refuel, and upgrade other satellites in high orbit.

The Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites initiative could help extend the lives of expensive communications and surveillance spacecraft, thus reducing the need for replacement craft and also cutting down on the number of dead satellites cluttering up the space around Earth.

But there’s a downside. „This technology, while immensely beneficial to satellite operators, could easily be used as a weapon system,“ Theresa Hitchens, a University of Maryland space expert, told me. The dual-use nature of the new servicing satellite, which DARPA expects to launch in 2019, could heighten tensions among spacefaring countries.

The servicing-satellite initiative began in 2016 but has gained momentum in recent months. In September, DARPA chose Palo Alto-based satellite-maker Space Systems Loral to partner with the agency on the new spacecraft.

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