The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), best known for creating the Internet, has selected 11 teams to work on its space-based adaptive communications node program for communication between low-orbit satellite networks. advanced its plan to revolutionize

Known as Space-BACN, the project seeks to build a low-cost, reconfigurable optical communications terminal that adapts to most optical intersatellite link standards while translating between different satellite constellations.

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

The goal of the teams working on Phase 1 of the project, which will take 14 months to complete, will be to create a preliminary design for a flexible, reduced size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C) optical aperture that pairs Single-mode fiber and a reconfigurable optical modem that supports up to 100 Gbps on a single wavelength, as well as a fully defined interface between system components.

Also to be developed during Phase 1 will be the schema for cross-constellation command and control, which will be demonstrated in a simulated environment.

The team focusing on SWaP-C optical aperture includes CACI, MBRYONICS and Mynaric. The team working on the optical modem includes II-VI Aerospace & Defense, Arizona State University and Intel Federal. The command and control team consists of five members: SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat and Amazon’s Kuiper Government Solutions.

Following the completion of Phase 1, six teams will spend 18 months developing engineering design units of optical terminal components, while the remaining five teams will continue to develop schemas to function in more challenging and dynamic scenarios.

Multiple commercial and social beneficiaries

Jim Dunston, general counsel for TechFreedom, a technology advocacy group in Washington, DC, pointed out that optical intersatellite links are a new technology without established interconnection standards.

“I see the satellite industry as a big winner here, more so than end-users, given that the power – 100 watts – and the price – $100K – are going to prevent widespread use of technologies for a single user terminal. that emerged from this program,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“What Space-BACN does, however, is get all players into the same virtual room to work on standards that are much needed, and allow them both to receive federal support for their research and to work with other companies.” Allows you to take advantage of the work.” He continued.

“While a DARPA video space-BACN has been done with first responder communications, as has been done with first responder communications—replace a myriad of individual proprietary systems operating at disparate frequencies—I don’t think the analogy is appropriate here. There is more power reason for the price,” he said.

However, DARPA projects have a way of having a wider impact than may initially seem obvious. “There are many commercial and social beneficiaries that are outside the formal focus of the program,” said Arizona State University professor Daniel Bliss, director of the Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architecture.

“The technologies we will develop are widely applicable to processing and communication,” he told TechNewsWorld. “In the context of the program’s specific goals, we are proving flexible, efficient and relatively low-cost optical communications technologies to rapidly expand diverse low-cost satellite systems.”

reduce LEO costs

Existing operators of satellite constellations in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO), such as Elon Musk’s Starlink network, may eventually benefit from Space-BACN, Dunston noted.

“Optical interconnection is still one of the big value drivers of NGSO systems,” he said. “The radio side of things has been largely commoditized. You can buy very sophisticated software-defined radios [SDRs] Very cheap.”

“Optical systems are still very expensive,” he continued, “so Space-BACN has an opportunity to reduce some of that cost, benefiting all NGSO operators.”

“For existing and new LEOs [Low Eart Orbit] network, we enable the ability to connect legacy and yet-to-be-defined optical communications links,” Bliss said. “We can translate between optical standards and implement new standards as they develop, potentially officially after the launch.”

By putting together the teams for Space-BACN, DARPA attempted to remove friction for the many firms wishing to participate in the project.

“We intentionally proposed to make our Space-BACN requests as easy as possible, because we wanted to tap into the large pool of both established defense companies and innovative small tech companies, many of which do not have the time or resources to make complex government contracts. trace processes,” Space-BACN program manager Greg Kuperman said in a statement.

“We have used other transactions and are very pleased with [the] The diversity of organizations responding and the quality of the proposals,” he said.

democratization of space

Dunstan stressed that DARPA hit a “sweet spot” with the Space-BACN program. “It cast a wide net, bringing both very established and relative newcomers to the table,” he said.

“It uses DARPA’s other transaction authorization [OTA] To avoid the high overhead of most government funding mechanisms,” he continued, “and the 11 winners in Phase I mean that DARPA can take on more risk and allow some failure in the process without jeopardizing the program’s overall goal.” can give.”

The ability of small firms to participate in a project like Space-BACN reflects what the satellite industry is like today. “In the past, satellites used to cost a fortune to build,” explained John Strand of Strand Consulting in Denmark. “We are now seeing smaller companies with limited funding to build satellites for limited applications.”

“They can build satellites using standard components, the same way you would build a custom computer,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So if you look at the number of companies in the satellite industry, it’s booming.”

“Space, historically, has centralized government,” he said. “What’s happening with the space industry now is that it has become democratized because the cost of putting things in space for private-public partnerships has dropped dramatically.”

Safety Questions

In its kickoff announcement for Space-BACN, DARPA said it hopes to establish seamless communication between military/government and commercial/civilian satellite constellations. This could be the rub of the future in the program’s future.

“That would be the final question – can you secure the military/civilian interface,” Dunston said.

“Optical systems are less likely to jam because of their tighter beams. They may also be less prone to hacking, but that remains to be seen,” he continued. “My guess is that DARPA is so interested in the project. One reason is that they can get a window into the security capabilities of these types of networks.”

“Certainly the DoD is not going to sign up for an interface between defense and civilian satellite systems that they cannot secure,” he said. “Given how much SpaceCom traffic currently travels on civilian systems, my guess is that they feel pretty confident they can secure their side of the interface.”

Bliss acknowledged that it’s not always a good idea to directly implement commercial communication technologies. But, he added, “because of the flexibility we’re developing, we can maximize the benefits of leveraging commercial technologies while minimizing security risks.”