Innovations don’t take place in a vacuum. Military researchers looking to find a way to upgrade or repair satellites in high-altitude orbit are getting help, both from industry and other military laboratories.The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s program for reaching satellites in geosynchronous orbit—22,000 miles above the Earth—is enlisting industry input as part of a public-private endeavor that would serve military, government and commercial satellites. But it’s also getting help from the Naval Research Laboratory on a key element of the project—a dexterous robotic arm called FREND that would be used to engage and service the satellites.ONR’s Naval Center for Space Technology, along with DARPA, has been working on FREND, or the Front-end Robotics Enabling Near-term Demonstration, since 2002, planning to field an on-orbit, unmanned satellite servicing vehicle billed to transform space operation at GEO to robotically inspect and autonomously grapple, reposition, repair and upgrade spacecraft.
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