Orbital Sciences moves ahead with plan to create satellites with orbiting clusters of modules

ARLINGTON, Va., 6 Dec. 2009. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., plans to award a $77 million follow-on contract to Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., to continue developing fractionated satellite technology, which uses separate orbiting modules connected by wireless links, rather than a monolithic satellite architecture.

Dec 6th, 2009

Posted by John Keller

ARLINGTON, Va., 6 Dec. 2009. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., plans to award a $77 million follow-on contract to Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., to continue developing fractionated satellite technology, which uses separate orbiting modules connected by wireless links, rather than a monolithic satellite architecture.

Orbital Sciences will continue work on the DARPA System F6 program to demonstrate a functional fractionated satellite in 2013, including support for mission capability through adding modules and satellite electronics developed independently by other companies.

Fractionated satellite technology has the potential to enable several independent companies to create a sophisticated satellite together without the need for physical interoperability standards to help piece separate modules together in one large satellite.

Separate satellite modules would orbit closely together as clusters. Wireless data links and interoperable software will for the glue that will keep the separate modules working together as one satellite system.

Part of the yearlong contract requires Orbital Sciences to deliver the F6 Developers Kit (FDK), which is a set of open-source standards to enable third-party companies to interface with the F6 architecture at the component, module, or cluster level.

DARPA began the System F6 fractionated spacecraft research program in 2008 with initial contracts to Orbital Sciences, as well as the Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Northrop Grumman Corp. DARPA officials say they can save at least $10 million by proceeding with the program only with Orbital Sciences.

For the second phase, Orbital Sciences will use architectures, processes, software, and equipment its engineers developed for the $13.6 million phase-one contract.

Over the next year in the phase-2 contract, Orbital Sciences also will deliver to DARPA blocks 4 and 5 hardware in the loop test bed demonstration and wireless communications demonstrations, an evaluation of third-party modules, the FDK, and an overall critical design review.

DARPA scientists are particularly interested in Orbital Sciences's capabilities in safe, autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations of independent satellite modules, including rapid defensive maneuvering capability to avoid damage from orbiting space junk.

DARPA also will rely on Orbital Sciences's developments in secure, real-time distributed spacecraft avionics that works over a wireless network that can tolerate several kinds of faults.

More information on this upcoming contract is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/DARPA-SN-09-52/listing.html.

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