DARPA Seeking Electronics for Small Satellite Clusters

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SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is asking computer chip and electronics manufacturers to assist in developing technology that would enable clusters of wirelessly networked small satellites to perform various elements of a single mission.

DARPA announced plans Nov. 15 to webcast a Nov. 22 briefing on the project, known as F6 Technology Package, the modular hardware component to be included in System F6 program spacecraft buses. Through the System F6 program, DARPA officials plan to conduct on-orbit demonstrations in 2015 to showcase the merits of using a cluster of small satellites to share the work traditionally done by a single, standalone spacecraft. Companies interested in participating in the web-based briefing must register by Nov. 20.

“Today’s space electronics are clunky,” Paul Eremenko, DARPA’s System F6 program manager, said in a Nov. 15 statement. “They provide limited processing speed and capability, they’re bulky and power-hungry, and they are manufactured as bespoke, one-of-a-kind products.”

DARPA officials are looking instead for the type of powerful, energy-efficient processors used in ground-based computing networks. “We need the groups currently developing those same state-of-the-art ground-based solutions to develop technologies that combine small size, reliability, and low cost with approaches that enable operation in the harsh environment of space, so the technology package becomes the standard, ubiquitous hardware appliqué in a vibrant marketplace of F6TP vendors,” Eremenko said.