Jeffrey LewisSpacecraft for the Unmanned Modification of Orbits (SUMO)

DARPA is the gift that keeps on giving. I noticed this new start in the DARPA budget:

Program (US$ Millions) 2006 2007
Spacecraft for the Unmanned Modification of Orbits (SUMO) 12.6 22.3

“SUMO combines detailed stereo photogrammetric imaging with robotic multi degree of freedom manipulators,” DARPA exclaims, “to autonomously grapple space objects without custom interfaces.”

Yes, SUMO includes the development of what DARPA calls a “grapple front end system” to wrestle satellites where DOD wants them—including out of orbit.

Shachtman and I (more) giggled at a particularly amateurish illustration that popped up in a powerpoint presentation.

Then, NASA and DARPA expressed interest in robotic grappler arms to de-orbit Hubble. Now this.

This will teach us to laugh where DARPA is involved.

In case you’d like to see a serious discussion of what a grappler might look like (with like, you know, equations and stuff), check out Kalina Galabova’s MS thesis at MIT entitled Architecting a Family of Space Tugs based on Orbital Transfer Mission Scenarios.