Robots to Be Used in Rehabilitating Dead Satellites in Orbit

Olis Robotics will be using the SBIR funding to advance their artificial intelligence-driven software platform that can operate in space / Vadim Sadovski via Shutterstock


Seattle-based remote robotics software provider Olis Robotics has recently received funding from the US Air Force to lay out the plan of using robotics to rehabilitate dead satellites in orbit. This is according to US nonprofit news agency Associated Press.

Olis Robotics and its AI-driven software

Olis Robotics, which was previously known as BlueHaptics, is a company that has developed a software platform that expands the capabilities of pilot-controlled service robots. It recently announced that it received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Air Force. They said that they will be using the SBIR funding to advance their artificial intelligence-driven software platform that can operate in space, making satellite rehabilitation practical.

Olis has been recognized as a company that deliberately avoided focusing on hardware to give more attention in creating software that can potentially expand the power of service robots that are pilot-controlled in dynamic settings, including deep oceans, space, and other field operations. Because of their effort, they were able to introduce software that can improve the robotic precision, efficiency, dexterity, as well as overall mission to be a success. Furthermore, the AI-driven software is built to allow multiple piloted robots in a single control module. 

Robots for satellite repair

The company shared that its proprietary control system could be helpful in the next generation of robotics intended to repair dead satellites in orbit. This is because their system has “machine learning capabilities” that allow robots to do tasks within the pre-set autonomy level even if they are not in contact with ground control. This is also the reason why the software can operate not just in space but also in deep oceans. Moreover, the system’s autonomous control will deal with the concerns of signal latency. In networking and telecommunications, latency is also called lag or the time delay between the sender that is causing the system change and the reception by some observer. The largest contributor to latency is believed to be the routing between the sender as well as the receiver, explains cloud communications platform Twilio.

Other applications of Olis’ technology

The company shared in its site that their system, which serves as a semi-autonomous brain for other existing robots that are active in the field, can also be applied in offshore energy, maintenance and cleaning of bridges, nuclear decommissioning, and remediation for health and environmental crisis.

The U.S. DARPA also expressed its interest last month to send robots into space to repair and inspect the country’s satellites / Alones via Shutterstock


How the system can reduce the cost of upgrading and maintaining satellite systems

The Air Force grant now calls for Olis Robotics to analyze how its system can address the needs of the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces for in-space manufacturing and satellite servicing while in orbit. The company’s CEO, Don Pickering, also said via tech and business news provider GeekWire that their team is pleased to be collaborating with the US Air Force to extend the life of space satellites. He believed that such work can save “hundreds of millions of dollars” in cost of repair, update, and refuel of the satellites that are already positioned in orbit.

Space robots

Meanwhile, the United State’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency also expressed its interest last month to send robots into space to repair and inspect the country’s satellites. Today, the US has more than 400 commercial, government, and military satellites that are circling the Earth. This was based on information provided by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in its Online Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space. These satellites are positioned about 22,000 miles above the ground and are used for military applications, meteorology, and telecommunications. However, the Pentagon’s research office realized that when these satellites break down, it would be close to impossible to fix them, considering the fact that they are positioned out in space.

DARPA thinks that space-based robotic technology can provide the ideal way of repairing and inspecting satellites. This is also in consideration with the federal agencies and the budding United States Space Force that are expanding outer space operations. 

NASA explained that most satellites are launched on rockets. Then, they will orbit the Earth the moment their speed is balanced by the Earth’s gravity. Absent such balance, a satellite will either fly off into space or fall back toward the planet. Satellites are not designed to be repaired, though. If something goes wrong up in space, the manufacturers just have various contingencies. These contingencies will keep the satellite in operation as much as possible even if there is a dysfunctional part until the object becomes entirely useless. If that happens, the satellite is just abandoned like what happened to a Japanese satellite called ADEOS 1. Its mission was ended after it sustained damage in its solar panel array. In rare cases, experts and technicians are dispatched using space shuttles to do a space-docking maneuver and conduct the needed repairs. The process, however, is costly. If the Olis Robotics system proves to be successful, it could one day make satellite repairs more feasible and cheaper.