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DARPA Selects 11 Teams in First Phase of Space-BACN

The research agency is beginning to develop an optical intersatellite communications terminal.
DARPA is pursuing R&D of a platform under which government and private sector satellite constellations can be able “talk” to each other in an inter-satellite network setup, as part of its new Space-BACN Program

DARPA is pursuing R&D of a platform under which government and private sector satellite constellations can be able “talk” to each other in an inter-satellite network setup, as part of its new Space-BACN Program

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is advancing research to enable communication between low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations owned by the military and government and the private sector. According to the agency, the idea for the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node program (Space-BACN), is to connect these satellite constellations to be able “talk” to each other in an intersatellite network setup.

Using other transaction authority, DARPA selected 11 teams for the 14-month, Phase 1 of the Space-BACN effort, including: CACI, Inc.; MBRYONICS; Mynaric; II-VI Aerospace and Defense; Arizona State University; Intel Federal, LLC; SpaceX; Telesat; SpaceLink; Viasat; and Kuiper Government Solutions.

“The agency selected teams from academia and large and small commercial companies, including multiple performers awarded first-time contracts with the Department of Defense,” an agency spokesperson said.

CACI, MBRYONICS and Mynaric will develop a flexible, low size, weight, power and cost optical aperture device that goes into a single-mode optical fiber for the network. II-VI Aerospace and Defense, Arizona State and Intel will develop a reconfigurable optical modem to can handle 100 gigabytes per second of data on a single wavelength. In addition, these two sets of companies will collaborate in a working group to design an interface between their respective Space-BACN system components.

Meanwhile, SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat and Kuiper will define the critical command and control (C2) elements required to support cross-constellation optical intersatellite link communications. They also will develop the platform necessary to interface between Space-BACN and commercial partner constellations, DARPA reported.

“We intentionally made making a proposal to our Space-BACN solicitations as easy as possible, because we wanted to tap into both established defense companies and the large pool of innovative small tech companies, many of which don’t have the time or resources to figure out complicated government contracting processes,” said Space-BACN Program Manager Greg Kuperman. “We used OTAs and were very pleased with diversity of organizations that responded and quality of proposals. After a successful Phase 0 where we got to see the teams sprint to put together an initial architecture design for Space-BACN, I'm excited to get to work in Phase 1 building the actual system.”

After Phase 1, DARPA will conduct a preliminary design review of the aperture device and the modem from the first two technical sets and expects a fully defined interface that connects the system components from the working group. For the third group, DARPA will test the cross-constellation C2 schema by conducting a connectivity demo in a simulated environment to establish a baseline scenario.

If selected, certain companies that developed the aperture device or modem in the first phase will participate in an 18-month Phase 2 to develop engineering design units of the optical terminal components, DARPA noted. Phase 2 for C2 technical area “will continue to evolve the schema to function in more challenging and dynamic scenarios,” the agency stated.