A mission to determine if robots, like spiders, they can build complex structures in space, will be launched in January 2006 according to ew Scientist magazine. The spider bots could build large structures from a “web” released from a larger spacecraft. The engineers behind the project plan to eventually construct colossal solar panels for satellites that will transmit solar energy back to Earth. The satellites could reflect and concentrate the sun’s rays on a power receiving station on Earth or perhaps in the form of microwaves.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a satellite called Furoshiki on 18 January 2006, which will conduct three experiments to test this idea. The satellite will be deployed from a rocket into a suborbital trajectory. This means that scientists will have only 10 minutes of microgravity in which to perform their tests before the craft starts its descent back to Earth and eventually burns up in the atmosphere. The first experiment will see three small satellites separated from the mother ship and stretch out to form two corners of a triangular net with it.
Onboard cameras will be used to constantly check the network as possible, which measures 40 meters on each side, and that the satellites do not become entangled in the web.
Later, two smaller robots, called RobySpace Junior 1 and 2 will be sent from the mothership and maneuver along the filaments of the fabric.
These spider robots could one day be used to construct large pieces of sets of solar reflectors. The prototype robots, built by engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Vienna University of Technology, will test how to maneuver throughout the network in the absence of gravity.
Each robot has a set of wheels that can grip both sides of a network line to avoid floating off into space. “Hopefully we can prove first that it is possible to move along a very thin, free-floating in a controlled manner,” says Leopold Summerer Advanced Concepts Team of ESA. While robots are being deployed, a ground station will instruct the mother satellite and satellites to synchronize their children microwave antennas and beam a signal back to a receiving station on Earth.
One small step :The mission will last only a short time but will cost much less than an experiment in orbit. “We wanted to try an experiment of longer duration in satellites,” says Nobuyuki Kaya, an engineer from the University of Kobe, Japan, who is working on the satellite’s microwave experiment.
“But we have no budget. We think this is only a first step.”
A satellite capable of beaming one billion watts of electricity generated by the sun and sent back to Earth would probably need a solar panel with an area of one square kilometer. The spider robots could also be used to build massive communication antennas or a shield to protect satellites from orbiting space junk.