Defense Advanced Research Projects AgencyTagged Content List

Space Systems

Unmanned space systems, including vehicles, robotics and supporting technologies, as well as technologies for space situational awareness

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Military satellites are critical sources of communications and data for today’s operations environments. Through DARPA’s Phoenix program, useable antennas or solar arrays from retired satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO – 36,000 kilometers above earth) could be removed and potentially repurposed as components for new satellites to provide vital mission support.
Military commanders responsible for situational awareness and command and control of assets in space know all too well the challenge that comes from the vast size of the space domain. The volume of Earth’s operational space domain is hundreds of thousands times larger than the Earth’s oceans. It contains thousands of objects hurtling at up to 17,000 miles per hour.
The goal of the DARPA Launch Challenge is to demonstrate responsive and flexible space launch capabilities from the burgeoning industry of small launch providers. For nearly 60 years, the nation’s space architecture has been built around exquisite systems that are launched by large, expensive boosters. The development cycle with the systems is tedious, with a process driven by a desire to reduce risk, rather than deliver timely capabilities.
More than 7,000 spacecraft have been launched from Earth, the vast majority of which are satellites that are no longer operational. These defunct objects, now free-orbiting debris, threaten the more than 1,200 satellites that are currently operated by commercial and government entities around the globe. The number of space debris that threaten important communications, weather monitoring, navigation services and imagery satellites is growing.
The traditional process of designing, developing, building and deploying space systems is long, expensive and complex. These difficulties apply especially to the increasing number of expensive, mission-critical satellites launched every year into geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth. Unlike objects in low Earth orbit (LEO), such as the Hubble Space Telescope, satellites in GEO are essentially unreachable with current technology.