DARPA seek for satellite laser terminals that can speak to any space network

DARPA seek for satellite laser terminals that can speak to any space network

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is requesting concepts on how to make optical inter-satellite connections. This is in order to link government and industrial space communications systems in low Earth orbit.

DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office announces on 13th September that it will practice this technology under a new program. It is known as Space-BACN, short for space-based adaptive communications node.

“As government and industrial small-satellite constellations continue to thrive in low Earth orbit. DARPA has shown the latest effort in order to create a unique optical communications terminal. This is in order to interconnect distinct constellations into a resilient space layer,” the agency says.

Greg Kuperman is the manager of the Space-BACN program. He says that the aim is “seamless communication among several constellations that presently cannot talk to each other.”

To talk about the project DARPA is holding –
  • A virtual conference with potential bidders on 22nd September.
  • Proposals are due on 4th October.

Kuperman says that the industry is installing thousands of broadband satellites in order to beam internet signals to operators on Earth. However, “the difficulty with this development is that optical communications networks are presently engineered to only connect satellites. This is within a given constellation — they can’t energetically adapt waveforms in order to communicate with satellites in other constellations.”

The lack of standards “consequences in a fragmented, stove-piped ‘wild west’ space domain with new constellations that cannot interoperate. Government satellites that cannot communicate among one another, and government satellites incapable to take benefit of evolving industrial communications capabilities.”

DARPA is beginning this project as another DoD organization, the Space Development Agency, plans to start releasing. Its own space communications layer in LEO next year. The SDA has made it a requirement for satellite vendors to have interoperable optical inter-satellite links. The Space-BACN program takes the SDA’s vision even beyond by calling for government and industrial systems to be interoperable.

The desired optical terminals, DARPA says, should provide for 100 gigabits per second information rates. It should need no more than 100 watts of power and should cost not above $100,000 per unit.

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