Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

DARPA History

History of DARPA and its accomplishments

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From 1968 to 1972, ARPA funded a program with the Perkin Elmer Corporation to develop the technology for fabricating large, stable, low-weight mirrors from beryllium, a featherweight metal, for use in space applications. The early focus of the program was in developing and evaluating improved forms of beryllium. Perkin Elmer was successful in improving the thermal stability of beryllium surfaces tenfold, and developing materials-processing techniques (powder metallurgy, hot isostatic processing, pressureless sintering) for making it possible to fabricate large beryllium structures.

Further ARPA- funded efforts led to surface-polishing techniques to dramatically reduce scattering of infrared wavelengths, the successful development of thin-film coatings techniques, and a demonstration of the long-term stability of beryllium surfaces. DoD applications included 1) the all-beryllium, 15-inch aperture, long-wave infrared (IR) telescope system for the Midcourse Airborne Target Signature program run by what was then known as the Advanced Ballistic Missile Defense Agency; 2) the fabrication of a lightweight, 40-inch, aspheric mirror for the U.S. Air Force; and 3) experimental near-net-shape production of a key component of the Trident 11 MK6 guidance system. NASA also applied the technology in the form of a 85-cm beryllium mirror assembly for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)'s IR Telescope Technology Testbed for eventual use in NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility (later renamed the Spitzer Space Telescope), which was launched in 2003 and as of 2018 was still in operation.

With its sights on robotic pack mules to help warfighter in operations, DARPA initiated a program that yielded BigDog. The robot’s on-board computer controls locomotion, processes sensors, and handles communications with the user. BigDog’s control system keeps it balanced, manages locomotion on a wide variety of terrain, and does navigation. Sensors for locomotion include joint position, joint force, ground contact, ground load, a gyroscope, LIDAR, and a stereo vision system. Other sensors focus on the internal state of BigDog, monitoring the hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine functions, battery charge, and others.
Under a DARPA contract, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) developed the Blast Gauge, a small device worn by warfighters to measure blast exposure and cue medics for initial response. This phase of the project took just 11 months with a total development cost of approximately $1 million. As field tests began, and design refinement and larger production quantities were required, RIT researchers formed BlackBox Biometrics, a small business to commercialize and manufacture the Blast Gauges.
DARPA and the U.S. Army’s Fort Belvoir Research, Development and Engineering Center ran a series of concept studies in the early 1970s to define requirements for an anti-tank weapon referred to as the Terminally Guided Anti-Armor Indirect Fire Weapon System. Under DARPA’s wing, that morphed into the Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition (BAT)), a terminally guided anti-armor munition originally intended to be carried aboard the TriService Standoff Attack Missile. Its design featured dual seekers to minimize spoofing and a novel acoustic sensor that could cue on the sound of running tank engines. A decade after the program began, more than 1,100 pre-production and low-production units had been built.
DARPA in 2014 created its Biological Technologies Office (BTO), which has enabled a new level of momentum for DARPA’s portfolio of innovative, biology-based programs. The impetus for creating this new office was the maturation of genetic technologies and bioinformatics, in conjunction with breakthroughs in neuroscience, immunology, and related biomedical fields.