DARPA wants to commoditize space gear

ANAHEIM, Calif.'Taking a cue from the IT industry, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants the satellite industry to offer the same off-the-shelf standardization that now keeps costs down for personal computers.

'It takes too long and is too expensive to put things in space,' said Gary Graham, a program manager handling some of DARPA's space efforts. He said that preparing for a satellite launch takes one to two years and costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

Graham was speaking this week at the DARPATech convention in Anaheim, Calif. DARPA holds the conference each year to outline its needs for contractors and other outside researchers.

DARPA program manager Tim Grayson expressed an interest in funding the modular development of space components. Instead of building a satellite to carry out a specific task, such as communications relay, satellites could be broken up into different subsystems, he said, each in close orbital proximity to one another.

By using this modular approach, different subsystems can be swapped out if they become defective or outmoded'saving the costs of scrapping an entire satellite whenever one of its subsystems no longer works. Satellites also could be repurposed or used to share resources on an ad-hoc basis.

DARPA would also like to move the satellite industry towards the model of using standard components that PC vendors now employ, said John Evans, another DARPA program manager for its space effort. This approach would allow the military to assemble satellites much more quickly and cheaply, as they would not have to commission each satellite to be built from scratch.

'While we reconfigure the technology at home and in businesses, quickly upgrading to the latest and greatest, our ability to upgrade the satellites that circle the Earth is next to impossible,' Evans said. 'Why do we have antiquated systems circling the Earth above us, while in our homes we have the fastest, most up-to-date technology?'

Space technologies are one of DARPA's eight current areas of research. Other DARPA efforts include the development of reusable launch components as well as systems that can catalogue the debris currently orbiting the Earth.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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