SpaceX and ULA set to launch robots into orbit next year that will grab space junk and fix satellites
- A US startup plans to launch four robots onboard SpaceX and ULA rockets next year.
- Rogue Space Systems' robots will carry out different tasks, like fixing satellites and tackling space debris.
An American space startup plans to launch orbital robots on Elon Musk's SpaceX and United Launch Alliance rockets next year.
Rogue Space Systems, based in New Hampshire, has four robots in the production pipeline, all designed to perform different tasks in orbit to support satellites and sort out space litter.
Orbital debris has become a big concern for the space industry. Increasingly more junk, including spare rocket parts and dead satellites, is floating in space as more launches occur. This has created collision risks. Some objects even reenter the Earth's atmosphere, crashing to the ground.
Jeromy Grimmett, Rogue's founder and CEO, told Insider he's found a solution: robots in space.
"We build R2D2, but for real," he said, referencing the popular "Star Wars" character.
Grimmett said Rogue is contracted with launch provider Exolaunch for two launches on SpaceX rockets that will each take two robots onboard. Later, there will be one launch on a ULA spacecraft through a partnership with the US Space Force, and another launch with SpaceX, both with one of the robots onboard.
SpaceX didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. Exolaunch confirmed the launches with Insider.
The earliest launch is targeted for February and another will take place in May, Grimmett said.
Meet the space robots
Grimmett said Rogue has named its robots after people who were close to certain employees. Whereas Barry, one of Rogue's smaller robots, was named after a bat that flies around the office.
"We're trying to put a little bit of ourselves into each of these," Grimmett said of the robots.
Barry will be the first of Rogue's robots to be released into space. Once in orbit, it will inspect and monitor objects or deploy with a satellite to keep an eye on it, according to Grimmett.
Laura is the space robot that Rogue is most excited about, Grimmett said, adding that it's designed to perform diagnostics and operations on other objects or satellites in orbit.
Charlie is still in the early stages of production but will have abilities similar to Laura's, according to Grimmett.
Meanwhile, Fred, a 325-kilogram robot that Rogue aims to have in space by the end of 2023 or early 2024, will have four robotic arms and be able to move satellites and other objects to and from different orbits, Grimmett said.
Some of Rogue's robots will attach tethers to an object and drag it down in orbit toward the atmosphere, where it should burn up, Grimmett said. This process quickens up the object's descent. For example, an object that may have taken three years to deorbit would instead take eight months, he said.
The space-junk problem
Over 130 million pieces of space debris are currently positioned around the Earth, according to the European Space Agency. These objects are traveling around 10 times the speed of a bullet, and when they collide, they can create even more debris, worsening the space-junk problem.
"We're putting up these rockets all over the world," Grimmett said. "It's outpacing our ability to clean up after ourselves."
It's not all doom and gloom, but it's getting worse, he said. Rogue's space robots can be put in place to prevent the situation from getting out of control, and they have end-of-life plans so they don't end up turning into their own space debris.
Of course, four robots is a small number to help clean up so much space litter. Grimmett said: "We're just gonna keep building as many as the Space Force and our commercial customers need."
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