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CACI Demonstrates Optical Intersatellite Links for DARPA, SDA 

By | May 17, 2022

Mandrake 2 spacecraft pre-launch. Photo: Astro Digital/via DARPA

CACI International Inc demonstrated space-to-space optical communications links in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) as part of the Mandrake II mission. CACI announced the tests Tuesday, in partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Space Development Agency (SDA).

Mandrale II is a risk-reduction program for optical communication terminals for the upcoming Blackjack and SDA Transport and Tracking Layer constellations. SpaceX launched the two Mandrake II satellites in July 2021. The satellites, called Able and Baker, were outfitted with SA Photonics CrossBeam free-space optical terminals onboard an Astro Digital (ASI) bus. ASI provided the satellite software needed to operate the vehicles. Seakr, the prime contractor, led the system integration of both satellites.

SA Photonics is now a CACI company after a recent acquisition.

The CrossBeam optical inter-satellite links successfully established an optical link during a test April 14. The link demonstrated closed loop tracking and data transfer over a more than 100 kilometer link distance, with more than 200 gigabits of data transmitted and received.

CACI said this test “is the first step in establishing more secure, space-based communications networks for defense agencies using more powerful, efficient technology that can transmit more data, faster.” 

Optical inter-satellite links are an in-demand technology for the high rate of data transfer, and because light is not a regulated or licensed band.  

“Working with our partners on this industry milestone, we are proud to support the customer mission with this proliferated LEO class of low SWaP-C optical communication terminal,” said CACI SA Photonics COO Mustafa Veziroglu.

Veziroglu said the second-generation CrossBeam optical terminal is now ready to move into volume production following this test. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Astro Digital and Seakr’s contributions.