DARPA Seeks Increase for Space Programs in 2009

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BOSTON — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is requesting $287 millionfor space programs in 2009, a $70.6 million increase over the current budget for those efforts.

DARPA’s 2009 space request is also $61.8 million higher than the agency envisioned requesting at this time last year, according to budget justification documents sent to Congress in early February.

The funding spike does not continue in the years that follow, as the planned annual requests for the agency’s space programs from 2010 to 2013 are each lower than what DARPA planned when its 2008 budget request was sent to Congress last February, according to the document.

New space programs included in DARPA’s 2009 budget request include the Bi-Static Shield, which is intended to demonstrate a capability that could provide warning to U.S. satellites of an approaching enemy spacecraft, according to the budget document.

The system is described in the document as using satellite tracking, telemetry and control radio frequency beams to create an electromagnetic shield within a 30-kilometer radius from a geosynchronous-orbiting satellite. Possible aggressor satellites could be spotted if they closed in on the U.S. satellite by reflecting those signals off their spacecraft, according to the document.

Using such a method could improve the Pentagon’s ability to provide situational awareness in the immediate areas surrounding particular satellites without launching additional satellites devoted to doing so, according to the document. The Air Force Research Laboratory had explored the possibility of building a small prototype escort satellite called Angels that would have orbited near a larger satellite to keep an eye on the area, but changed the focus to a broader space situational awareness mission in early 2007.

DARPA plans to conduct testing of the Bi-Static Shield in 2009 using NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System “or other suitable cooperative satellite and satellite ground station,” according to the document.

Other new starts envisioned for 2009 include the Medium Earth Orbit Synthetic Aperture Radar program, which is intended to help the military meet its goal of tracking moving targets from space. The program is intended to develop automated techniques to identify moving targets, and then extract them from imagery to avoid blurring, according to the document.

The Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office have been developing Space Radar satellites intended to spot moving targets and provide high-resolution imagery, though the program is currently in flux. Air Force officials have discussed the possibility of beginning that effort with satellites in low Earth orbit, and eventually migrating to medium Earth orbit to take advantage of longer dwell times over areas of interest.

DARPA had worked on a system called the Innovative Space Radar Antenna Technology program that was intended to develop a large antenna that could be folded into a small package on the ground and then unfurled in space in order to provide a sensor with sufficient power to conduct the Space Radar mission from medium Earth orbit. However, the agency acknowledged in January 2007 that it had canceled the effort because the Air Force and National Reconnaissance Office were not ready to move forward with the technology.

One existing area due to receive a significant increase to its current budget is the effort to develop an unmanned hypersonic flight platform for intelligence and strike missions. DARPA previously had funded this work through the Falcon program, which also includes work on a small satellite launcher built by AirLaunch LLC of Kirkland, Wash.

DARPA’s 2009 budget request creates a separate account for the development of an experimental hypersonic airplane called the Blackswift Test Bed, which formerly was known as the Falcon Hypersonic Test Vehicle-3X that will be capable of cruising at Mach 6 and can take off and land from a runway. Falcon and Blackswift together are slated to receive $95 million in 2009, nearly double the planned budget request at this point last year.

Another program due for a significant increase in funding beyond what was anticipated at this point last year is System F6, a formation-flying experiment in which multiple small satellites would perform functions normally carried out by single, larger spacecraft. System F6, which refers to the phrase Future Fast, Flexible, Free-Flying, Fractionated Spacecraft united by Information Exchange, was expected to receive $21 million at this point last year, a figure that increased by $16.3 million when DARPA sent the 2009 budget request to Congress

DARPA awarded a one-year, $13.6 million contract Feb. 19 to Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., to develop key technologies, analyze cost and refine its design, Walker said in response to questions not related to the budget request. The agency expects to award contracts in the near future to some of the five other companies that submitted proposals for this program, she said.

DARPA also is asking for $9 million more than planned at this point last year for the Integrated Sensor is Structure, an airship under development by Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors of Akron, Ohio. As currently conceived, this airship would loiter in the same position near the edge of space for a year or longer. DARPA is planning on flight-testing a sub-scaled version of the airship in 2009, according to the budget justification document. DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker said the requested increase is based on the lessons learned thus far with the technology development on the program.

One effort not included in the 2009 budget request is the Tiny, Independent, Coordinating Spacecraft program, which was intended to develop on-orbit inspection satellites small enough to be difficult to detect, according to the 2008 budget justification document. An industry source said that DARPA canceled the project, which was slated a year ago to receive $7 million in the 2009.

The DARPA request also includes less funding than previously planned for the Novel Satellite Communications program, which is intended to develop signal processing techniques to help troops communicate via satellite radios even around multiple jammers or when in urban settings where buildings can cause signal disruption. The program, which is run by BAE Electronics and Integrated Solusions of Nashua, N.H., was slated to receive $9.6 million in 2009 at this point last year, $5.5 million more than the actual 2009 request.

DARPA’s budget justification document notes that the agency last year “collected experimental SATCOM jamming data” using the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System and commercial spacecraft, which demonstrated that software under development for the Novel Satellite Communications program worked properly. The system is expected to transition to the Navy and Air Force following a demonstration in 2009, according to the document.