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DARPA History

History of DARPA and its accomplishments

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By design, people at DARPA tend to have short tenures. While program managers, office directors, deputy office directors, directors and deputy directors number around 120 in any given year, the total number of people who have done a 3- to 5-year turn at DARPA is large. The DARPA family extends to the even larger number of administrative professionals and contractors who support DARPA’s mission. The vast majority of these alumni refer to their tenure at DARPA as an enormously enriching and life-changing experience, so it is no surprise that many continue to care about and support DARPA’s mission years after they leave.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Hubble Telescope takes the clearest images of the universe and transmits these to Earth via its antennas. From 1978 to 1980, DARPA funded the design, fabrication, delivery and installation of two antenna booms for the Hubble Space Telescope to demonstrate the advantages of metal-matrix composites. Made of a graphite-fiber/aluminum matrix, these booms permit radio frequency conduction while simultaneously serving as structural supports. Deploying this dual-use composite material resulted in a 60% weight savings over an alternative boom- design candidate. Through this new material technology, DARPA met NASA’s design requirements for weight, stiffness, and dimensional stability. DARPA also contributed to the Hubble’s optical successes. The telescope incorporates algorithms and concepts pioneered by DARPA’s Directed Energy Program in the late 1970s and early 1980s, by which mirrors can be deliberately deformed to correct for wavefront imperfections.
The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), which DARPA developed in partnership with the U. S. Navy and U.S, Air Force, becomes a program of record for the Navy. LRASM is anticipated to play a significant role in ensuring military access to operate in both open-ocean and littoral environments due to its enhanced ability to discriminate between targets and conduct tactical engagements from extended ranges. With the growth of maritime threats in anti-access/area denial (A2AD) environments, this semi-autonomous, air-launched anti-ship missile promises to reduce dependence on external platforms and network links in order to penetrate sophisticated enemy air-defense systems.
Congress has played a vital role in DARPA's success over many years. DARPA could not fulfill its mission of developing breakthrough technologies for national security without consistent bipartisan support from Congress. DARPA's congressional authorizers and appropriators sit on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and the Appropriations Committees. Transcripts of testimony provided to these and other committees and subcommittees appear below.
DARPA ran its pathbreaking Grand Challenge with the goal of spurring on American ingenuity to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicle technologies that could be applied to military requirements. No team entry successfully completed the designated DARPA Grand Challenge route from Barstow, CA, to Primm, NV, on March 13, 2004. The event offered a $1 million prize to the winner from among 15 finalists that emerged from a qualifying round at the California Speedway, but the prize went unclaimed as no vehicles were able to complete the difficult desert route.