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  • ELECTRONICS MANUFACTURERS KEY TO “BUILDING BLOCK” FOR SYSTEM F6 SATELLITE PROGRAM

    November 15, 2011

    Computer chip and electronics manufacturers sought to develop technology package for wirelessly networking small satellites

    Small, wirelessly-networked, energy efficient systems with sophisticated security policies and powerful processors are commonplace in today’s world. They are not, however, state of the art in space.  Yet these same ground-based system capabilities are needed to provide the connectivity required by DARPA’s System F6 program.

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

    New electronics and out-of-the-box approaches for operating in a space environment are needed as DARPA attempts to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of a system of wirelessly-interconnected small space modules that seamlessly and securely share their software and hardware resources in real-time over a distributed network. The resulting connectivity would enable DARPA’s System F6 vision—the emergence of a space ‘global commons,’ a satellite Internet of sorts—that would enhance the mutual security posture of all participants through interdependence.

    The electronics package would be a building block for DARPA’s System F6 satellite program, which creates a “virtual” satellite from a cluster of interconnected modules. DARPA’s F6 Technology Package (F6TP) is a modular hardware component to be installed on a wide range of spacecraft buses to enable them to fully participate in a fractionated cluster.

    “What we’re looking for is being done on the ground today,” explained Eremenko. “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.”

    Essentially a network computing device, the F6TP physically connects to and provides switching and routing functions between the spacecraft bus, the wireless inter-satellite transceivers, shared resource payloads (e.g., high-powered computing, data storage, and other communications links) and mission payloads such as sensors.  The F6TP serves as the hardware platform running the software that enables cluster networking including the network protocol stack, real-time resource sharing middleware, cluster flight applications and mission-specific applications. The F6TP also provides cryptographic capability and other security features that enable a multi-level security (MLS) environment.

    The F6TP is one of three main artifacts in the System F6 program. The other two are the F6 Developer’s Kit (FDK) and the F6 on-orbit demonstration. The FDK is a set of open source, freely exportable interface standards, protocols, software and behaviors necessary for anyone to develop a clean-sheet module design that can fully participate in a fractionated cluster. The FDK was the subject of a prior DARPA solicitation in which 21 performers were awarded contracts, and six of those performers recently were selected to continue with the FDK development. An on-orbit system demonstration is planned for 2015.

    A virtual Proposers’ Day for F6TP is scheduled for Tuesday, November 22, 2011, at 11:00am Eastern Time. This is a webcast with an interactive chat capability for near real-time questions and answers.

    The registration deadline is Sunday, November 20, 2011, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Registration for the virtual Proposers’ Day may be completed here.

    DARPA’s System F6 aims to create a flexible platform for synthesizing large-scale space systems from wirelessly-networked fractionated modules. A key outcome of the F6 program is the lowering of the barrier to participation in the space industry and an enhancement in the operational adaptability of national security space systems. The Agency’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) provides a complementary adaptable and economical launch capability, which will amplify the industrial base and operational adaptability impact of F6. Another effort that will benefit from System F6 development is Phoenix, an example of an ambitious new space capability that leverages the F6 architecture and platform to change the business model for aperture-intensive national security space missions.

    The F6TP Proposers Day Special Notice is viewable here.

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