Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop, Orbital Get DARPA Contracts For Mini-Satellites; Splitting One Satellite Into Parts Would Bolster Survivability Against Anti-Satellite Attacks, And Against Damage Caused By Space Debris
Demonstration Of ‘Fractionated’ Satellite In Orbit Seen In Four Years
DARPA awarded The Boeing Co. [BA], Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] and Orbital Sciences Corp. [ORB] multi-million-dollar contracts to design and build what is essentially one satellite divided into multiple parts, linked wirelessly.
Those contracts are for the first, one-year phase of a four-phase effort.
Why split up what ordinarily would be a single satellite into several separate parts?
Because, if one of those parts is damaged deliberately by an anti-satellite weapon or accidentally by space debris, most of the satellite survives and continues operating. "It’s survivability," a Northrop source said.
China last year proved it can obliterate any satellite it wishes by using a ground-based interceptor missile to demolish one of its own aging weather satellites, an act that created a vast cloud of lethal space debris moving at 17,500 miles an hour.
As well, China used a ground-based laser to temporarily disable a U.S. military satellite.
Military analysts predict that if China invades Taiwan, as it has vowed to do if Taiwan doesn’t submit to rule by Beijing, the People’s Liberation Army might annihilate U.S. military satellites to harm U.S. armed forces communications and intelligence.
Also, it’s cheaper to update when only one mini-satellite must be replaced, instead of an entire unified sat. Also, all of the component satellites in the mini-constellation don’t have to be developed at the same time, but can be developed in a series.
These are the details on the contracts, the members of the competing teams, and the dollar amounts for each company:
- The Boeing Co., Huntington Beach, Calif., teamed with L3 Communications, Millennium Space Systems, Octant Technologies, and Science Applications International Corp. ($12,891,049);
- Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Palo Alto, Calif., teamed with Aurora Flight Sciences, Colbaugh & Heinsheimer Consulting, Vanderbilt University, and Lockheed Martin Integrated and Global Systems ($5,762,781);
- Northrop Grumman Space & Mission Systems Corp., Redondo Beach, Calif., teamed with Alliant Tech Systems Inc., Aurora Flight Sciences, Juniper Networks, L3 Communications, BAE Systems, Cornell University, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, and University of Virginia ($6,159,866); and
- Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., teamed with IBM, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology, SpaceDev, and Aurora Flight Sciences ($13,648,758).
Each of the component satellites could contribute a unique capability to the rest of the network, such as computing, ground communications, or payload functionality.
The ultimate goal of the program is to launch a fractionated spacecraft system and demonstrate it in orbit in approximately four years.
DARPA F6 Program Manager Dr. Owen Brown explains, "We see many benefits to fractionation. Fractionation provides the flexibility to launch individual payloads when they are ready so that an otherwise complex, multi-payload program isn’t delayed. It diversifies risk during launch by not putting all of our eggs into one basket, greatly improves robustness to attack, and provides the capability to rapidly replace a failed component without needing complex in-orbit servicing.
"And we have the potential to take advantage of Moore’s law by frequently upgrading on-orbit computing resources using relatively small modules, as opposed to waiting decades until we replace the entire spacecraft."
During the first phase, contractors will:
- Develop key technologies to enable the fractionated approach, including robust networking, reliable wireless communications, fault-tolerant distributed computing, wireless power transfer, and autonomous cluster navigation;
- Select a space system mission of value to a national security space stakeholder and develop a system design to accomplish that mission;
- Develop an innovative analytical approach using econometric tools that determine the risk-adjusted cost and value of a both a fractionated space system and a monolithic program of record with equivalent capability; and
- Develop an evolved hardware-in-the-loop test-bed to emulate the designed fractionated spacecraft using a cluster of networked computers.
"This is an incredibly exciting program that could radically change the way we do business in space," Brown said. "The world of tomorrow will be one of uncertainty. To address this uncertainty, F6 will develop an approach that provides flexibility and reduced risk for a space system’s entire lifecycle."
Space Radar Canceled; Lockheed Pledges To Work With Pentagon On New Effort
The U.S. Department of Defense cancelled the Space Radar program, a U.S. Air Force spokeswoman confirmed last week.
The program, which would have provided global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the military and intelligence communities, was allotted no money in the Air Force budget request for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009, according to a report last week in Satellite Today, sister publication of Space & Missile Defense Report.
That decision to cut the program, first reported by Space News, was made jointly between the Pentagon and the intelligence community, according to the statement.
Space Radar could someday have been worth up to $20 billion.
"The Space Radar program of record is not affordable and will be restructured effective immediately. The program office is taking the necessary actions to implement this direction. Space Radar program of record activities will cease as soon as practical. The government will continue to vigorously pursue alternatives to meet the [Department of Defense] and [intelligence community] requirements for radar capabilities from space."
A team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] was working on Space Radar under a development contract the Air Force awarded in 2004.
"Our team has performed well in demonstrating our technological readiness essential for introducing Space Radar, achieving major risk reduction milestones under our 2004- awarded Phase A concept development contract," Steve Tatum, a Lockheed spokesman, said in an e-mail statement. "Going forward, we stand ready to support the government’s effort to address any new requirements and plans for providing this critical capability."
Lockheed Receives $21.3 Million Trident Engineering Contract Change
The Navy gave Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] a $21.3 million contract change for engineering services on the Trident II (D5) missile.
Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors at Mitchel Field, N.Y., will provide navigation subsystem engineering support services.
Specific efforts include U.S. Strategic Weapon System shipboard integration support and U.S. trainer shipboard integration support.
The latest change order option increases the total contract value to $80 million so far.
Work will be performed in Mitchel Field, N.Y., by April 2010.
The Strategic Systems Programs in Arlington, Va., handles the contract.