DARPA to brief industry on developing artificial intelligence and cyber security for military satellites

SAN DIEGO – U.S. military researchers will brief industry later this month on a project to develop artificial intelligence, machine autonomy, and cyber security to a future constellation of low-cost military satellites operating in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Sep 5th, 2018
DARPA to brief industry on developing artificial intelligence and cyber security for military satellites
DARPA to brief industry on developing artificial intelligence and cyber security for military satellites
SAN DIEGO – U.S. military researchers will brief industry later this month on a project to develop artificial intelligence, machine autonomy, and cyber security to a future constellation of low-cost military satellites operating in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will discuss details of the upcoming Blackjack Autonomy and Integration program from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. pacific time on 19 Sept. in Building 177 at Liberty Station, 2875 Dewey Road in San Diego.

Briefings will center on a Blackjack Autonomy and Integration implementation called Pit Boss, which seeks to develop autonomy, integration, on-orbit cyber security, and on-orbit cryptographic solutions for the DARPA Blackjack program.

Overall, Blackjack seeks to develop enabling technologies for a global high-speed network backbone operating in LEO that enables networked, resilient, and persistent military satellite payloads that provide infinite over-the-horizon sensing, signals, and communications capabilities.

Related: DARPA Blackjack to develop small, secure military satellites for low-Earth orbit

Historically, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) satellites have been custom-designed, with lengthy and expensive design and upgrade cycles. The evolution of commercial space, however, has led to LEO broadband Internet communications satellites that could offer attractive economies of scale to the military.

The Blackjack program will emphasize a commoditized bus and low-cost interchangeable payloads with short design cycles and frequent technology upgrades, based on a ‘good enough’ payloads optimized for more than one type of bus.

The Blackjack Pit Boss segment of the program consists of developing an avionics box and computing node -- also called an edge processor -- which includes hosted autonomy software with artificial intelligence; dynamically distributed computing dispersed among hundreds to thousands of nodes; precision timing; low SWaP-C space processing hardware; embedded cyber security; cryptographic solutions; mission integration; and spacecraft integration.

For Pit Boss, DARPA researchers will want industry proposals on artificial intelligence software to support constellation and satellite autonomy; massively distributed computing; precision timing; high-assurance cyber solutions; low-cost on-orbit processing hardware; space cryptographic solutions; and system and mission integration services.

Related: Traditional radiation-hardened electronics industry facing challenges of adapting to Space 2.0

DARPA is interested in artificial intelligence software that can capitalize on multiple-modality sensor webs and exploit space-based mesh networks to move critical data quickly to platforms, units, and other elements at the tactical edge.

This includes a dynamic and evolving ability to detect, identify, and track physical targets based on training data, tasking inputs, and learning, as well as an ability to hand-off target data to other satellites in the mesh network.

This could be more difficult than it sounds. Satellites that detect targets must maintain constant custody of these targets, and to do so even when several individual satellites are compromised or are unable to join or rejoin the network.

These satellites must be able to identify subscribers that need fast targeting information and ensure that critical data gets to them quickly. This will involve approaches to ensure data integrity, authentication of subscribers, and maintain low network latency.

Related: Boeing to develop next-generation radiation-hardened space processor based on the ARM architecture

These satellites must be of low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C), and have heterogeneous processing hardware that includes general purpose processors (GPP), field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and graphics processing units (GPUs) suitable for a LEO environment.

Satellite also will need low SWaP-C space-qualified cryptography for routable multi-level security for commoditized satellite buses with military payloads.

Historically, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) satellites have been custom-designed, with lengthy and expensive design and upgrade cycles. The evolution of commercial space, however, has led to LEO broadband Internet communications satellites that could offer attractive economies of scale.

The Blackjack program emphasizes a commoditized bus and low-cost interchangeable payloads with short design cycles and frequent technology upgrades, based on a ‘good enough’ payloads optimized for more than one type of bus.

Related: Raytheon to build secure military satellite communications terminals in $298 million deal

The program emphasizes the marriage of commoditized buses and interchangeable payloads with short design cycles, autonomous integration and operations, and frequent technology upgrades via over-the-air software upgrades, and rapid refresh of on-orbit nodes to move data efficiently and effectively to users at the tactical edge.

The goal is to demonstrate a distributed LEO constellation that provides global persistent coverage with a total cost of ownership that is less than a single satellite designed for a comparable mission in geosynchronous orbit. Blackjack spacecraft will operate within a commercial constellation with communications and operations provided by the commercial service provider.

The Pit Boss edge processor will be on-orbit the Blackjack computational, cryptographic, timing node hosted aboard all Blackjack satellites.

Pit Boss will be electronically situated between the payloads and the spacecraft bus, providing electrical, timing, and network connectivity for each payload, and provide packet routing between the payloads, the networked Blackjack spacecraft constellation nodes, the broader commercial spacecraft constellation nodes, and ground terminals.

Related: Growth seen in independently developing traditional rad-hard and small sat markets for space electronics

Pit Boss edge processors also will provide cyber protection and data encryption and decryption for secure communications across the networked elements, as well as provide payload management, payload power switching, tasking, and scheduling, satellite resource management, constellation management, clocking, and timing.

Attendance to the industry briefings is limited to U.S. Citizens or U.S. permanent residents representing U.S. companies. Those interested in attending should register online no later than 11 Sept. 2018 at www.cvent.coM/d/1gqy71.

Email questions or concerns to Paul "Rusty" Thomas, the Pit Boss program manager, at DARPA-SN-18-76@darpa.mil. The formal Pit Boss solicitation will be available after the industry briefings.

More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/DARPA-SN-18-76/listing.html.

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