Your recent article on the cancellation of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) System F6 demo mission [“DARPA Cancels System F6,” May 20, page 4] gives a fairly accurate portrayal of the current state of the program and the reasons for its cancellation. However, it needed to delve deeper in order to avoid casting aspersions on some of the excellent F6 performers that are executing at a very high level on their contracts. Our company, Emergent Space Technologies Inc., is one such performer, but there are others.
Emergent is the prime contractor for the Cluster Flight Application (CFA) software, which enables multiple spacecraft to perform the relative navigation and control needed for coordinated semi-autonomous cluster ingress/egress, efficient station-keeping, collision avoidance and scatter/re-gather. This software technology, which DARPA intends to make available as Open Source, is an important advancement in enabling future cluster and formation-flying missions. With today’s small-satellite technology, they are more viable than a decade ago when such architectures first began to emerge in the thinking at NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
Emergent and others involved with System F6 have performed extremely well, as the government team will attest, and we are proud of our accomplishments. Despite its premature termination, the System F6 program has generated some important innovations. In our case, not only are we successfully developing complex, model-based flight software in a distributed team environment, but we also have demonstrated that innovative and agile small businesses can have significant and positive impacts on DARPA space programs.
We hope that our performance will lead to future opportunities for us and for other “nontraditional” performers that have great ideas and great people and just need a chance to shine.
Working with DARPA on System F6 has been a tremendous experience, enabling us to implement new techniques in agile software development that will benefit future customers. We would do it again in a heartbeat. We look forward to leveraging the CFA for other DARPA and U.S. Defense Department programs, not to mention NASA and commercial customers. Even with the cancellation of the demo mission, all I see is opportunity!
George W. Davis
The writer is president of Emergent Space Technologies Inc.