DARPA picks teams for Space-BACN Phase 1

By Michael Marrow / August 10, 2022 at 4:58 PM

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency today announced the selection of 11 teams that will lead Phase 1 efforts for the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node program, moving the agency closer to its goal of fielding a system that can enable different low earth orbit satellite constellations to communicate.

The 11 teams, DARPA’s press release says, are composed of representatives from large and small companies as well as academia. They are from CACI, Mbryonics, Mynaric, II-VI Aerospace & Defense, Arizona State University, Intel Federal, SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat and Amazon subsidiary Kuiper Government Solutions.

Most satellite constellations are currently isolated from one another since they operate on different waveforms with incompatible optical intersatellite links, a potential roadblock for future Defense Department projects like Joint All Domain Command and Control.

To bridge this gap, Space-BACN would construct an “internet” of LEO satellites, the release states, fostering interoperability between government and commercial satellites.

DARPA envisions the capability fielded by the program will be a go-to solution for future constellations and adhere to three main criteria, which the agency calls 1003: 100 gigabits per second to support most optical standards, 100 watts to limit power consumption and a unit price of $100,000.

The Space-BACN effort, first unveiled last year, has three planned phases with two separate technical tracks that will conclude in the development and testing of a prototype.

The first track will develop a flexible, low size, weight, power and cost, or SWaP-C, optical aperture. The second is aimed at fielding a reconfigurable modem that can support most optical waveforms.

After completing an architectural study for Phase 0, the announcement of Phase 1 teams today kicks off the next round of the program, a 14-month long effort that will involve component demonstrations in a benchtop environment and completion of preliminary design reviews.

Selected performers for the aperture and modem projects will then participate in an 18-month Phase 2 effort to develop engineering design units of the optical terminal components, concluding in a critical design review.

Throughout Phase 1 and Phase 2, a modular integration working group will meet periodically to design the system’s interface and achieve full connectivity of the terminals. The end of Phase 2 is then expected to achieve an interoperability demonstration.

“The culmination of this activity will be Space-BACN terminals with interchangeable components communicating with one another using different standards,” Space-BACN Program Manager Greg Kuperman explained in a video announcing the program.

CACI, Mbryonics and Mynaric were selected for the aperture project. The second track effort to develop the modem will consist of II-VI Aerospace & Defense, ASU and Intel Federal, the release says.

The remaining teams of SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat and KGS will spearhead command-and-control solutions that can support interoperability between constellations and conduct a connectivity demonstration, according to the release.

As the aperture and modem projects progress, the release says, the third team will continue to test the cross-constellation command and control schema to evaluate its performance “in more challenging and dynamic scenarios.”