Via FlowingData, here’s a sort of promo-documentary-advertorial-edutainment spot for Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence system, designed to protect us from rogue bits of crap colliding in orbit above us.
As remarked at FD, I think it’s likely that a lot of the visualisations here are speculative, but the result is something that looks momentarily convincing in that ultimately-unconvincing-once-you’ve-thought-about-it Hollywood way – designed to sell the concept rather than the actuality, in other words. (In other words, I expect the Space Fence control room will look a lot less like the bridge of a space opera dreadnought… though there’s a part of me that wishes that wasn’t the case.)
Makes sense, really; if you want to convince people that putting in expensive systems to mitigate (or at least monitor) potential existential risk problems is worthwhile, making them look a bit sexy is a good tactic. I suppose this is a kind of design fiction, too…
[ Note: my assumption that the footage in the video partakes in artistic license is just that, an assumption; I would very much like to see the real thing, or evidence that the footage represents the reality. If anyone at Lockheed is reading, I’d love to drop in and take a closer look… though you’d probably have to stump up my airfare. 🙂 ]
We already know that there’s a whole lot of junk at the top of the gravity well; a lot of it is dead satellites, and as much as we could blast the things apart, it’d probably be a lot more economical to ensure they have a longer working life. Enter MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, a Canadian outfit who propose building an orbital platform for refuelling and repairing ailing satellites:
MDA wants to fill that niche by launching a satellite refueling station that can track down and dock with satellites in the sky, filling them up with hydrazine and performing small repairs. Such a service could double, or even triple, the lives of satellites already flying, provided their on-board instruments are still working properly.
But such a refueling station isn’t the same as pulling up to the gas pump, or even refueling a jet in flight. Satellites are roaring through space at nearly 7,000 miles per hour, so a fueling station would have to first catch the satellite in motion, then somehow finagle the fueling port open with a robotic arm of some kind — if, that is, the door hasn’t been seared closed by years of exposure to space. It’s been done exactly twice before, but both times it happened under experimental conditions where the satellite and the refueling vehicle were both new and designed to be compatible.
Still, it’s not impossible and MDA thinks it could make $100 million a year servicing satellites which themselves are very expensive to replace.
Another potentially lucrative business model for commercial space companies, and a lot less adventurous than asteroid mining (though I suspect it may turn out to be more technically challenging in some respects). It also looks (to my layman’s eye, at least) more sensible than the previously-mooted idea of sending up wandering repairbots.
Probably too little too late for poor old Zombiesat, though.
There are some mighty resourceful and inventive people out there, and arguably the best thing about the intermatubes (at least in my humble opinion) is that it’s easier than ever before to learn from them. Example: say you wanted a lathe, so as to teach yourself woodturning or some such similar craft. Now, lathes are pretty pricey pieces of hardware, even if you find one second hand – so why not just build one from scratch using readily available junk? [image from Instructables]
Time is money, as the old saying goes, but it seems to me that time is becoming more valuable than money, at least for those of us in the West – in that, if you’ve got the time and the motivation, you can build yourself affordable versions of technologies that would otherwise be way out of your reach. Mash that up with the rise of garage fabbing enterprises, and you’ve got the potential for a very different form of post-industrial economy on the horizon.
[* – my husband actually yelled this in his sleep once.]
Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennals – check out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.
[ Be sure to check out the Does Not Equal Cafepress store for webcomic merchandise featuring Canadians with geometrically-shaped heads! ]