Lockheed Martin’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series is among the geostationary satellites currently in orbit. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to develop new robots that can fix satellites in geostationary orbit. (Lockheed Martin image)

The U.S. military and commercial companies alike maintain many space satellites in geostationary orbit, meaning they stay over the same point on the Earth’s surface. But there’s a catch: While the satellites help with everything from telecommunications to tracking the weather, it is very difficult to maintain them because they are stationed about 22,300 miles high.

“Satellites in GEO are essentially unreachable with current technology,” said officials with the Pentagon’s Defense Advance Research Projects Agency. “As a result, these satellites are designed to operate without any upgrades or repairs for their entire lifespan—a methodology that demands increased size, complexity and cost.”

DARPA — known for developing high-tech, futuristic equipment — is looking for a few good robots to help. And in a new advertisement to industry, the agency said it also is interested in partnering with private corporations to launch a rocket in the next five years that can carry the robots to work on satellites. The ability to fix them in geostationary orbit would “revolutionize military and commercial space operations alike,” DARPA officials say, reducing costs and improving the lifespan and reliability of satellites.

As this artist’s rendering released by DARPA shows, the robots would have a variety of jobs, including inspecting satellites for problems, readjusting their orbits and fixing mechanical problems:


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which oversees a variety of high-tech projects for the Pentagon, released this artist’s rendering to show how it wants robots that can fix space satellites in geostationary orbit. (DARPA image)

In April, DARPA said it had awarded contracts to eight companies that are developing robotics to work on satellites as part of the agency’s Phoenix Program. It released this video to show it in concept:

The companies include Busek; Energid Inc; Honeybee Robotics; MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. of Canada; MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. of the United States; NovaWurks; Oceaneering Inc.; and Space Systems/Loral.