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DARPA History

History of DARPA and its accomplishments

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Launched on July 13, 1994, the 198-kg DARPASAT demonstrated the possibility of placing in orbit a lightweight, low-cost payload for enhancing operational defense and warfighting capabilities. The primary performer, Ball Aerospace, oversaw the design, fabrication, integration, and testing of the spacecraft bus, which carried two government-supplied payloads. With frugal management of battery use and thermal loads, DARPASAT surpassed its mission goal of a three-year lifetime by lasting for eight years.

The goal of the Global Low Orbiting Message Relay (GLOMR) satellite (aka CHEAPSAT) program was to demonstrate the feasibility of building a two-way, digital data communication satellite capable of performing important military missions for less than a million dollars in under a year. The broader objective was to demonstrate low-cost satellite construction technology that could pave the way for future satellites performing diverse missions.

Under DARPA sponsorship, Defense Systems, Inc. (DSI) designed and developed GLOMR. The spacecraft was placed into orbit from a getaway special canister (or GASCAN) aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger (Mission 61-A, Spacelab D-1) on October 30, 1985, and operated successfully on orbit for over 14 months, before it fell back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

A series of tests, including the use of a portable access terminal at DARPA, were conducted between Washington, D.C., and Santa Barbara, California, demonstrating two-way, cross-country communications via GLOMR. DARPA assisted in transitioning the capability of, and lessons learned from, the GLOMR program to the Defense Department (DoD) and other government agencies.

The GLOMR program demonstrated the feasibility of low-cost satellites. This spacecraft served as a model for many DoD and non-DoD uses, including communications, tracking of beacons, remote- sensor readout, and classified applications.

Boosted into geosynchronous orbit on June 21, 2006 aboard a Delta II rocket The Microsatellite Technology Experiment (MiTEx) technology demonstration investigated and demonstrated advanced high-payoff technologies from a variety of potential candidates, including lightweight power and propulsion systems, avionics, structures, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, advanced communications, and on-orbit software environments.
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The goal of the Orbital Express Space Operations Architecture program was to validate the technical feasibility of robotic, autonomous on-orbit refueling and reconfiguration of satellites to support a broad range of future U.S. national security and commercial space programs. Refueling satellites would enable them to frequently maneuver to improve coverage, improve survivability, as well as extend satellite lifetime. Electronics upgrades on-orbit would provide regular performance improvements and dramatically reduce the time to deploy new technology.

Before DARPA was established, a President’s Science Advisory Committee panel and other experts had concluded that reliable ballistic missile defense (BMD) and space surveillance technologies would require the ability to detect, track, and identify a large number of objects moving at very high speeds. Responding to these needs, DARPA in 1959 initiated a competition for the design and construction of a large, experimental two-dimensional phased array with beam steering under computer control rather than requiring mechanical motion of the antenna.

Known as the Electronically Steered Array Radar (ESAR) Program, the focus of the effort was to develop low-cost, high-power tubes and phase shifters, extend component frequency ranges, increase bandwidth, apply digital techniques, and study antenna coupling. DARPA pioneered the construction of ground-based phased array radars such as the FPS-85. This radar system had a range of several thousand miles and could detect, track, identify, and catalog Earth-orbiting objects and ballistic missiles. The FPS-85 quickly became part of the Air Force SPACETRACK system and was in operation from 1962 until the SPACETRACK unit was deactivated in early 1967.