DARPA Launches LEO Satellite ‘Translator’ Development Program – SatNews

DARPA selected 11 teams for Stage 1 of the Space-based adaptive communication node program, known as Space-BACNwhich aims to create a low-cost reconfigurable optical communication terminal that adapts to most inter-satellite optical link standards, translating between various satellite constellations.

Space-BACN would create a “the Internet» LEO satellites, enabling seamless communication between military/government and commercial/civilian satellite constellations that are currently unable to communicate with each other. The agency selected teams from universities and large and small commercial companies, including several artists who won first-time contracts with the Department of Defense.

We intentionally made it as easy as possible to submit a proposal to our Space-BACN solicitations, as we wanted to tap into both established defense companies and the vast pool of small, innovative technology companies, many of which have neither the time or resources to understand complex government contracting processes,” said Greg Kuperman, head of the Space-BACN program at DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. “We have used other transactions and were very pleased with the diversity of organizations that responded and the quality of the proposals. After a successful phase 0 where we could see the teams sprinting to put together an initial architecture design for Space-BACN, I’m excited to start working in phase 1 to build the real system.”

In the first technical area, the following players aim to develop a flexible, low size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C) optical aperture that couples into a single-mode fiber:

The following teams selected in the second technical area aim to develop a reconfigurable optical modem supporting up to 100 Gbps on a single wavelength:

  • II-VI Aeronautics and Defense
  • Arizona State University
  • Intel Federal, LLC

The interpreter teams listed above will also participate in a collaborative working group to define the interface between their respective system components.

In a third technical area, the agency selected five teams to identify the critical command and control elements needed to support inter-constellation optical inter-satellite communications and develop the necessary schematic for the interface between Space-BACN and business partner constellations:

Space-BACN Phase 1 spans 14 months and will conclude with a preliminary design review (RDP) for the first two technical areas, as well as a fully defined interface between system components. The third technical area will develop the inter-constellation command and control scheme, and perform a connectivity demonstration in a simulated environment to test the scheme for a reference scenario.

At the end of phase 1, the performers selected in the first two technical areas will participate in an 18-month phase 2 to develop technical design units of the optical terminal components, while the performers in the third technical area will continue to evolve the scheme to operate in more challenging and dynamic scenarios.

Ryan H. Bowman