Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Company for Reactivating Vintage Spacecraft

There are more spacecraft added to the menagerie in orbit every year. Some are operational. Many are
not. But that is not because they are broken.

Many spacecraft simply have served their purpose. They are no longer needed or have become out of date. So they are shut down.
A Space Junkyard from Star Wars
This collection of used satellites and probes (basically space junk) leaves an opportunity for entrepreneurs to repurpose them by simply regaining contact with them, creating new missions, and perhaps maintaining the vintage equipment needed to operate them.

The chance here is that the all of the expensive work of designing and launching the craft has already been done by someone else and now the scavenger gets all of that for free, outdated though it may be. All a new company would have to do is design new missions for the craft and recreate the tools needed to operate it. This just take a few software or electrical engineers

Now a satellite that used to monitor earth weather until its resolution became too poor, can instead become an open source orbital photography platform. Or it could be moved into a new orbit to be used as a practice dummy for docking. Or in the case of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, it can be sent to study an asteroid.

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is crowdfunding effort underway to perform the kind of spacecraft refurbishment just discussed. The group wishes to regain contact with a a defunct solar probe and command it to fire its engines so that is can be sent to explore a nearby asteroid. While they are doing this simply as an exercise and valiant research effort, the results from the project could be the foundation of a future space company.

The company that pursues this kind of a mission would basically just be the antique dealer of  spacecraft. You go to their shop and you find the CRT TV of spacecraft  and buy control of it to drop an anvil onto it.

And this company doesn't have to make the old satellites do anything complex. The regaining of a means of controlling them is of huge value. With that returned control, the space junk can be collected, repurposed, reused, scrapped, or eliminated. All necessary operations in the space industry gaining a litter problem.

Any company that regains control of defunct spacecraft would have a large foothold in the private space industry as it becomes the dealer of the vintage space paraphernalia. And really, all they would need is a few software developers, a ham radio set, and maybe a retired rocket scientist.

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