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DARPA Pegs Partners for Low-Earth Orbit Satellite Translator

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ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 15, 2022 — The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected 11 teams to carry out work under Phase 1 of the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node program, known as Space-BACN. The project seeks to create a low-cost, reconfigurable optical communications terminal that adapts to most optical inter-satellite link standards, translating between diverse satellite constellations.

Space-BACN would create a network of low-Earth orbit satellites to enable seamless communication between military, government, and commercial/civil satellite constellations that are currently unable to “talk” to one another.

The agency selected teams from academia and large and small companies, including several that were awarded first-time contracts with the Department of Defense.
Conceptual image of DARPA’s Space-BACN project which will see the interconnection of satellite constellations of varying origins. Courtesy of DARPA.


Conceptual image of DARPA’s Space-BACN project, which will see the interconnection of satellite constellations of varying origins. Courtesy of DARPA.
“We intentionally made making a proposal to our Space-BACN solicitations as easy as possible, because we wanted to tap into both established defense companies and the large pool of innovative, small, tech companies, many of which don’t have the time or resources to figure out complicated government contracting processes,” said Greg Kuperman, Space-BACN program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. Kuperman said the agency was pleased with diversity of organizations that responded with proposals. 

The first technical area for which DARPA has selected is tasked with development of a flexible, low-size, -weight, -power, and -cost optical aperture that couples into single-mode fiber. Companies selected are CACI, MBRYONICS, and Mynaric, the latter of which worked on Space-BACN’s Phase 0, which was focused on developing the architectural design of the terminal.

The second technical area aims to develop a reconfigurable optical modem that supports up to 100 Gbit/s on a single wavelength. The selections for that aspect of the project are II-VI Aerospace and Defense, Arizona State University, and Intel Federal.

Arizona State’s Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architectures (WISCA) was awarded $5.4 million for the development of the reconfigurable modem. WISCA will leverage its processor technology to develop a modem capable of switching between standards and implementing new standards after the system has been built and launched.

The third technical area will 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. For this aspect of the project, DARPA selected SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat, and Kuiper Government Solutions.

Phase 1 of Space-BACN will span 14 months and conclude with a preliminary design review for the first two technical areas, as well as a fully defined interface between system components. The third technical area will develop the schema for cross-constellation command and control, and will conduct a connectivity demo in a simulated environment to test the schema for a baseline scenario.

Upon completion of Phase 1, selected participants in the first two technical areas will participate in an 18-month Phase 2 to develop engineering design units of the optical terminal components. Participants in the third technical area will continue to evolve the schema to function in more challenging and dynamic scenarios.


Photonics.com
Aug 2022
GLOSSARY
optical communications
The transmission and reception of information by optical devices and sensors.
BusinesslasersopticsCommunicationstelecomsatellitelow-earth orbitoptical communicationsdefensemilitary & defenseDepartment of DefenseUnited StatesDefense Advanced Research Projects AgencyDARPASpace-BACNCACIMBRYONICSMynaricArizona State UniversityII-VIIntelspacexTelesatSpaceLinkViaSatKuiper Government SolutionsAmericas

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