Saturday, April 13, 2024

DARPA kicks off program to create an ‘internet’ of low-Earth orbit satellites

DARPA has selected 11 teams for Phase 1 of the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node program, known as Space-BACN. Space-BACN aims to develop a low-cost, reconfigurable optical communications terminal that can translate between various satellite constellations and adapt to the majority of optical inter-satellite link standards.

Space-BACN will establish an “internet” of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, enabling seamless communication between military/government and commercial/civil satellite constellations that currently are unable to talk with each other.

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

“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.

“We used other transactions and were very pleased with the diversity of organizations that responded and the quality of proposals. After a successful Phase 0, where we got to see the teams sprint to put together an initial architecture design for Space-BACN, I’m excited to get to work in Phase 1 building the actual system.”

In the first technical area, CACI, MBRYONICS, and Mynaric aim to develop a flexible, low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) optical aperture that couples into a single-mode fiber. II-VI Aerospace and Defense, Arizona State University, and Intel Federal selected in the second technical area aim to develop a reconfigurable optical modem that supports up to 100 Gbps on a single wavelength. These teams will also participate in a collaborative working group to define the interface between their respective system components.

DARPA has also chosen five teams – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat, and Kuiper Government Solutions (KGS) LLC, an Amazon subsidiary – to work in a third technological area. These teams are selected to identify critical command and control elements required to support cross-constellation optical inter-satellite link communications and develop the schema necessary to interface between Space-BACN and commercial partner constellations.

The first phase of Space- BACN will last for 1 month and will 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.

Selected performers from the first two technical areas will participate in an 18-month Phase 2 to create the engineering design units for the optical terminal components after Phase 1 is completed. At the same time, performers in the third technical area will continue to evolve the schema to function in more challenging and dynamic scenarios.