DARPA wants real-time CubeSat communications to link micro-satellite constellations

ARLINGTON, Va., 10 June 2015. U.S. military researchers are trying to develop lightweight and low-power RF and optical communications links that would enable new generations of tiny space satellites to communicate with one another while in orbit.

Jun 10th, 2015
DARPA wants real-time CubeSat communications to link micro-satellite constellations
DARPA wants real-time CubeSat communications to link micro-satellite constellations
ARLINGTON, Va., 10 June 2015. U.S. military researchers are trying to develop lightweight and low-power RF and optical communications links that would enable new generations of tiny space satellites to communicate with one another while in orbit.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., on Friday issued a solicitation (DARPA-BAA-15-43) for the Inter-Satellite Communications Links project to find efficient ways for CubeSat communications to exchange information among micro-satellites to coordinate action or to send information to ground stations.

This new generation of CubeSats -- or orbiting satellites that weigh 100 pounds or less and are about the size of large softballs -- are used for low data rate communications, gathering data from several points, in-orbit inspection of larger satellites, and research by universities and small businesses.

These CubeSats, also called micro-satellites, are increasing in popularity because the general shrinking of microelectronic components is enabling substantial capabilities in spacecraft of this size, and they do not require large rockets to propel them into orbit.

The Inter-Satellite Communications Links project seeks to develop a new class of very lightweight and low power RF or optical inter-satellite communication links suitable for use on micro-satellites. This capability should weigh less than two pounds and consume less than three Watts of power.

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Inter-satellite links should provide the highest practical data-rate between micro-satellites, consistent with their small size and limited power consumption.

Many applications of these satellites will benefit from jam-resistant, high-data-rate, low-latency communications between satellites, whether for cooperative sensing applications or for data relay back to ground stations, DARPA officials say.

Since ground stations may be unavailable in many locations, relaying data between satellites to reach one with a connection to a ground station is an attractive option when low data latency is necessary -- particularly for large constellations consisting of 100 to 400 small satellites.

One of the project's goals is to demonstrate revolutionary flight hardware that yields inter-satellite communications links with data rates faster than 1 megabit per second within very tight weight and power constraints. Distance between satellites is expected to be about 1,250 to 2,500 miles.

The project revolves around two technical areas: developing a complete inter-satellite communications link within the next two years for potential integration into a small satellite development program; and more aggressive technology development that will take longer and yield more capable inter-satellite communications links.

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An important program goal is to provide low-latency, survivable, and jam-resistant communications to enable tactical applications requiring near-real-time data.

Proposed designs should address the robustness of the links and consider potential vulnerability of the links to jamming or denial by an adversary. This project has no requirement for the communications nodes to provide downlink capabilities.

Companies interested should submit abstracts no later than 26 June 2015 and full proposals no later than 3 Aug. 2015 to the DARPA BAA Website at https://baa.darpa.mil. Email questions or concerns to DARPA-BAA-15-43@darpa.mil.

More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/DARPA-BAA-15-43/listing.html.

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