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DARPA History

History of DARPA and its accomplishments

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01/01/1958

In its first months, ARPA managed and funded rocket development programs that would prove to be long-lived and far-reaching. Among these was a launch-vehicle program under the auspices of Wernher von Braun’s engineering team that would transfer to America’s new civilian space program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). There, von Braun’s initial booster technology, Juno V, would lead to the cluster-engine Saturn V Space Launch Vehicle, famous for its role in manned spaceflight to the Moon.

Another DARPA-authorized program in 1958, development of a liquid oxygen/hydrogen (LOX/LH2) upper-stage rocket known as Centaur, also transferred to the fledgling NASA. After several failures, the Centaur booster achieved its first successful orbital flight in 1963 and its first successful mission in 1966. Centaur rockets improved the ability of U.S. launch vehicles to place sizeable payloads into geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and helped pave the way toward future lunar and deep space missions. During its evolution, the Centaur LOX/LH2 upper stage technology has been used extensively on Atlas and Titan boosters for diverse missions. Centaur engine technology was also used in the upper stages of the Saturn rockets for the Apollo manned missions to the Moon and in the Space Shuttle’s liquid hydrogen-oxygen engines.

01/01/1996
From 1973 to 1980, DARPA funded efforts that reduced to practice a totally new concept for obtaining infrared (IR) images of targets. In Desert Strom, warfighters use such imagers to locate tanks and other military equipment buried in the sand. To continue to advance the technology, DARPA funded R&D for a new generation of IR imagers in the mid-90’s.
01/01/1984

Drawing inspiration from his work on the F-117 stealth aircraft, Ben Rich, then head of Lockheed’s Skunk Works, proposed applying the technology concepts he and his colleagues had learned for aircraft to submarines, with the idea of making these vessels undetectable via sonar. Initial tests on a small model suggested the stealth gains could be on the order of a thousandfold, albeit with a cost of speed due to the design.

The Department of Defense did not show interest in this line of investigation until Rich, with input from a colleague, adapted the idea to apply to surface ships. This led to a DARPA contract to apply stealth concepts and materials to surface vessels and to test the effects of seawater on the radar-absorbing materials.

Developed in great secrecy, a prototype, the Sea Shadow (also designated as IX-529) was assembled out of sight within a submersible barge (the Hughes Mining Barge 1) in Redwood City, California. The Sea Shadow’s first trials in 1981 proved greatly disappointing because the ship’s wake was unexpectedly huge and detectable with sonar and from the air. After discovering that the problem was due the motor propellers, which had been installed backwards, the project moved forward. The vessel was completed in 1984 and underwent night trials in 1985 and 1986. Even so, the Sea Shadow never made it beyond the testing phase, though engineers applied lessons learned in such applications as submarine periscopes and some newer Navy destroyers, including the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class ships. In 1993, the public got it first view of the stealth ship, which eventually was scrapped in 2006.

01/01/1986
Beginning in 1987, the SEMATECH consortium received funding from the Federal Government to help revitalize the U.S. chipmaking industry. SEMATECH is an acronym that derives from Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology A decade after its founding, in 1997, the consortium was standing on its own without annual funding from the Government. It has since spawned other organizations, such as the International Semiconductor Manufacturing Initiative with a focus on manufacturing equipment and operations.
01/01/1994
In 1994, the Sensor-Fuzed Weapon entered the Air Force Inventory. The weapon is an air-to-ground munition designed to meet the Air Force requirement for a general-purpose weapon that provides multiple kills per pass; can be employed over a wide area; functions under adverse weather conditions, at night, in an electronic countermeasures environment; and can be deployed from frontline fighters and bombers. DARPA began work in advanced weapons concepts for the Sensor Fuzed Weapon in the Assault Breaker Program as the Skeet Delivery Vehicle (SDV). In that program and related programs, DARPA developed and demonstrated a warhead and a simple infrared sensor concept leading to a 5.25-inch warhead, a more sophisticated sensor with target discrimination software, and a BLU launching/dispersal system. The smart projectile is a sensor-fuzed warhead comprised of an infrared sensor, a safe and arming device, a thermal battery, and a copper liner. The infrared sensor detects the target and fuzes the warhead to explosively form the copper liner into a kinetic energy projectile that can defeat both armored and soft vehicle targets.
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