PopSci profiles DARPA’s Phoenix initative, the path to a robot that can effectively disassemble space junk:
Phoenix will need to be able to rendezvous in space with newly launched satellites, on which smaller “satlets” will hitch rides into orbit. Phoenix will then remove those satlets (without damaging whatever multimillion-dollar satellite they are riding on) and carry them to dead satellites in other orbits. It will then attach the new satlet–which carries the electronic brains of a new satellite–to the dead satellite’s antenna before severing the antenna from its now-defunct satellite body. The new satlet now has a perfectly good piece of legacy hardware it can use to communicate with ground stations or other satellites, and after placing it in the proper orbit the Phoenix vehicle can move on to its next salvage job.