SPACE ELECTRONICS: DARPA looks to Southwest Research Institute for satellite cluster radios

U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials sought a flight low-rate crosslink wireless communications platform for the System F6 program. They found their solution at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.

The System F6 program will validate a new space mission concept in which a cluster of small, wirelessly connected spacecraft replaces the typical single spacecraft carrying instruments and payloads. The "fractionated" architecture is expected to enhance survivability, responsiveness, and adaptability compared to traditional monolithic spacecraft.

The SwRI K-band radio is integral to the open-source F6 Developers Kit (FDK), which allows any spacecraft to participate in an F6-enabled cluster.

SwRI's K-band wireless crosslink radio provides a continuously active communications channel with guaranteed availability and latency. The K-band radio's core architecture accommodates a continuous data link among the cluster members and supports inclusion of third-party, point-to-point, high-rate data links.

The SwRI-developed F6 Wireless Inter-Module Communications System (F6WICS) protocol incorporates a data link layer ready for integration with higher-level network protocols.

Officials expect the program to culminate in an on-orbit demonstration in 2015-2016.

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