DARPA Looking for Partner On Wireless Spacecraft Demo

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for another organization to host a payload for a fractionated spacecraft demonstration planned for around 2013, according to an April 26 posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

DARPA for several years has been working on a program dubbed System F6 that seeks to prove that a cluster of small spacecraft can perform the mission of a large spacecraft by communicating wirelessly with one another in space. The agency in December awarded a one-year, $75 million contract to Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., which will work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and IBM to develop a detailed System F6 design.

DARPA plans to launch three dedicated System F6 spacecraft to either low Earth orbit or geostationary orbit in mid-2013 to 2014, the posting said. One spacecraft will be designed primarily for data storage; one will be used for data uplink and downlink; and one is intended mainly for mission payload processing. The planned on-orbit experiments include semi-autonomous cluster reconfiguration, sharing of on-orbit infrastructure and defensive scatter and re-gather maneuvers, the posting said.

What DARPA needs now is a partner to provide a payload-hosting satellite that will work with the system. The satellite will be required to host the F6 Technology Package, which will weigh about 12 to 18 kilograms, require 130 watts of continuous power and include an S-band transceiver and other communications hardware.

The ability for a partner to secure an independent launch is important, but the payload-hosting satellite could potentially be launched with the other three System F6 satellites if it is compatible with the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter ring, the posting said.

DARPA will entertain proposals from all qualified sources, be they government, commercial, national or international, the posting said. Responses to the request for information are due May 17.