Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Novel Sensing and Detection

Novel concepts and devices capable of detecting and monitoring physical phenomena

Showing 37 results for Sensors + ISR RSS
One of the world’s earliest and most well-known spy satellite programs, the now declassified Corona photo-reconnaissance program was jointly funded by DARPA and the Central Intelligence Agency. Withstanding a series of initial failures, the program scored its first success in August 1960 when a canister of film dropped back through the atmosphere was successfully recovered, delivering a trove of intelligence photos taken over Soviet territory. The Corona program continued to acquire crucial Cold War intelligence until the mission ended in 1972.

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.

Today, cost and complexity limit the Navy to fewer weapons systems and platforms, so resources are strained to operate over vast maritime areas. Unmanned systems and sensors are commonly envisioned to fill coverage gaps and deliver action at a distance. However, for all of the advances in sensing, autonomy, and unmanned platforms in recent years, the usefulness of such technology becomes academic when faced with the question, “How do you get the systems there?” DARPA’s Upward Falling Payloads program seeks to address that challenge.
DARPA’s Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) Program has tested two complementary prototype systems as part of its Phase 2 development effort. The prototypes demonstrated functional sonar, communications and mobility at deep depths. The successful tests furthered DASH’s goals to apply advances in deep-ocean distributed sonar to help find and track quiet submarines.
DARPA’s Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program aims to transform how unattended sensors are developed for the military by using an original design manufacturer (ODM) process similar to that of the commercial smartphone industry. The goal is to develop low-cost, rapidly updatable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors in less than a year, a marked improvement to the current three-to-eight year development process.