DARPA wants someone to (plug and) play in space

Third party would host F6 package on its satellite

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants an organization that develops spacecraft to join its System F6 satellite demonstration to show that a third-party payload can plug into an on-orbit network and share communications, processing and other functions across several spacecraft, reports Graham Warwick at Aviation Week’s Ares blog.

A request for information for the third-party payload spacecraft module of the System Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying (F6) Spacecraft project was issued April 26. Responses are due by May 17.

Having a non-DARPA satellite successfully connect to the network on orbit will be a key test of the System F6 concept. DARPA’s vision is to construct a satellite system in which modular spacecraft that are launched independently can rendezvous autonomously then orbit together in loose formation while sharing resources via wireless links. New modules would be launched to expand, repair or upgrade the cluster while it orbits.

DARPA awarded a $75 million prime contract in December 2009 to Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., to develop the final design for System F6. The company is building three infrastructure models that will provide payload processing, data storage, high-bandwidth downlink and persistent ground communications to the cluster.

DARPA wants an independent third party to host an F6 technology package on its satellite that will enable that spacecraft to operate as a fully functional member of the fractionated cluster. In turn, the third-party spacecraft will receive communications access, shared data processing and storage, and fault tolerance through cluster-level redundancy in certain spacecraft functions.

The F6 demonstration is scheduled to begin in mid-2013. DARPA wants a third-party satellite to be operational in late 2013.

F6 is viewed as a new architecture for space operations. A successful test would prove that the on-orbit network could be expanded to include any suitably equipped satellite.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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