DARPA project aims to create “internet” of LEO satellites – Military Embedded Systems

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August 10, 2022

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

DARPA project aims to create "internet" of LEO satellites

Graphic courtesy DARPA

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) chose 11 teams for the first phase of what it’s calling the “Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node” or Space-BACN program, which intends to build a low-cost, reconfigurable optical communications terminal that adapts to most optical intersatellite link standards, translating between diverse satellite constellations and creating what the agency dubbed an “internet” of low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites.

Currently used military/government and commercial/civil satellite constellations are unable to talk with each other.

DARPA chose teams from academia and large and small commercial companies, including multiple performers awarded first-time contracts with the Department of Defense (DoD).

In the first technical area, a team comprised of CACI, Inc.; MBRYONICS; and Mynaric are tasked with developing a flexible, low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) optical aperture that couples into single-mode fiber. In the second technical area, a team (II-VI Aerospace and Defense, Arizona State University, and Intel Federal) will develop a reconfigurable optical modem that supports up to 100 Gb/sec on a single wavelength. These teams will also collaborate to define the interface between their respective system components.

In a third technical area, the agency selected five groups to identify critical command-and-control elements required to support cross-constellation optical intersatellite link communications and develop the schema necessary to interface between Space-BACN and commercial partner constellations. The entities in this third area are SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat, and Kuiper Government Solutions.

Work on Phase 1 of Space-BACN will take place over 14 months, concluding with a preliminary design review for the first two technical areas, as well as a fully defined interface between system components; DARPA intends that selected performers in the first two technical areas will then participate in an 18-month Phase 2 to develop engineering design units of the optical terminal components, while performers in the third technical area will continue to evolve the schema to function in more challenging and dynamic scenarios.

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