satellite network (Andrey VP/Shutterstock.com)

DARPA wants collaborating satellite constellations

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is seeking information on new technologies it can use to manage the sharing of missions across large constellations of inexpensive low-earth orbit satellites for the Defense Department.

The distributed approach to networked satellites would provide "both redundancy and resiliency" even though it "requires much more complex management to fully optimize their performance, especially in a dynamic or tactical environment,” DARPA said in its request for information.

A potential solution could be increased autonomy and machine learning, the agency explained.

Among the technologies and concepts DARPA is considering to manage a mission across multiple satellites are:

  • Autonomous operation of satellites in multiple orbital planes with multiple communications links, multiple ground stations, and/or multiple remote (tactical) users even when a ground station command link unavailable.
  • On-orbit data cloud and autonomous management of dynamic, distributed data storage and processing functions across multiple satellites.
  • The ability for constellations to autonomously reconfigure if some satellites lose some functionality or the mission changes.
  • On-orbit processors with lower cost components.

This is not the first time DARPA has shown interest in constellations of small, low-earth orbit satellites. Its 2012 Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program aimed to develop a constellation of up to 24 lightweight satellites that could supply space-based tactical information and imagery to warfighters in the field.

Responses to this RFI are due March 29. A subset of submitters will be invited to a Space Autonomy Workshop to help further identify technology challenges and development strategies.  It is tentatively scheduled for April 24-26, 2018, in San Diego.

Read the full RFI here

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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