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January 23, 2013

Pentagon launches Satellite Recycling Project

By Jody Ray Bennett, TMCnet Contributing Writer

A branch at the Pentagon is spending $180 million in a research effort to find ways to take existing parts of communications satellites and reuse them for new technologies. reports that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the wing undertaking the latest research project, which seeks to recycle satellites that have already launched into space and are currently not in use.

DARPA Program Manager David Barnhart said the project mission is to “try to find a way to really change the economics so that we can lower the cost of military space missions.”

"We're attempting to essentially increase the return on investment,” Barnhart said.

Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astrophysicist who tracks space launches and satellites around the world, said the effort to decrease costs over time is an "an interesting idea."

"The first few times you do this, it'll definitely be more expensive than just building the new antenna on your satellite from scratch. But in the long run, it might work out," McDowell told the Associated Press (News - Alert) in an email.

In 2016, DARPA plans to launch a key test with its demonstration mission that looks to successfully rewire an antenna from an unknown decommissioned satellite. There are approximately 140 retired satellites from which DARPA can choose for its latest experiment. One way DARPA plans to decrease the costs involved in a project of this magnitude is by trying to carpool the mini satellites with commercial rockets heading into space that may have extra room on board.

McDowell said the task of separating the antenna from the retired satellite without breaking it, then successfully reattaching the antennas to the mini-satellites, will be paramount to the success of the project. The end product, if successful, would be a new communication system made from a mix of both old and new satellite parts.

Edited by Ashley Caputo

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