DARPA Requests Quarter Billion for Space Development Programs

Artist’s conception of Boeing’s Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1). (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

DARPA has requested $254.67 million to fund a variety of space programs for FY 2019. The total includes funds for work on an experimental space plane, a responsive launch competition, and robotic on-orbit servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

The $62 million requested for the Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1) program would fund continuing work by Boeing to create a launch vehicle capable of flying 10 times in 10 days. Plans for FY 2019 include fabricating all major subsystems and the integration and testing of major sub-assemblies, flight and ground systems.

Credit: DARPA

The DARPA Launch Challenge aims to demonstrate the ability to launch satellites quickly, change sites and then quickly launch again. The agency has requested $5 million for the program in FY 2019.

DARPA has proposed spending just under $109 million on the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

“Technologies for servicing of GEO spacecraft would involve a mix of highly automated and remotely operated (from Earth) robotic systems,” the agency said in budget documents.

DARPA has requested $42 million on Radar Net, which is focused on the development of lightweight, low power, wideband capability for radio frequency (RF) communications and remote sensing for a space-based platform.

The agency is also seeking $37 million for four other programs — Blackjack, Planar Imager, Hallmark and Advanced Space Technology Concepts — that are focused on various space technologies. The programs are described in the table below.

DARPA FY 2019 BUDGET REQUEST FOR SPACE
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION
FY19 FUNDING (Millions $)
Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS)Demonstration of robotic servicing capabilities for GEO satellites $108.671
Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1)Low-cost reusable vehicle capable of 10 flights in 10 days$62
Radar NetDevelopment of lightweight, low power, wideband capability for radio frequency (RF) communications and remote sensing for a space-based platform $42
Blackjack (Formerly Blue Check)Development of space technologies demonstrating a proliferated smallsat constellation capability in low Earth orbit (LEO) $15
Planar ImagerDevelopment of a low size, weight, and power (SWaP) electro-optical (EO) imager using photonic integrated circuits (PICs) and other novel approaches to replace conventional telescopes for high altitude, long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) persistent platforms and space-based EO sensors for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)$10
 HallmarkDemonstration of a space battle management command and control (BMC2) capability to provide U.S. senior leadership the tools needed to effectively manage space assets in real time$10
Responsive Access for Space Resilience (RASR): DARPA Launch ChallengeDemonstration of ability to quickly launch satellites, change sites and then quickly launch again$5
Advanced Space Technology ConceptsStudies to examine and evaluate emerging technologies and concepts with the potential to provide substantial improvement in efficiency and effectiveness of operations in space$2
TOTAL:$254.671

Below are summaries of each program with lists of what DARPA expects to accomplish in FY 2019. The information is taken from agency budget documents.

Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS)
$108.671 million

A large number of national security and commercial space systems operate at geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO), providing persistence and enabling ground station antennas to point in a fixed direction. Technologies for servicing of GEO spacecraft would involve a mix of highly automated and remotely operated (from Earth) robotic systems.

FY 2019 Plans:

  • Begin integration of robotic payload.
  • Complete build and test of second robotic arm and tool changer.
  • Fabricate robotic operations test bed.
  • Complete build of flight units of robotic tools and tool holders.
  • Begin preparations for launch with Air Force Space Test Program.
  • Complete build of rendezvous and proximity operations sensors.
  • Complete payload structures fabrication.
  • Test final build of flight software.
  • Convene CONFERS second general assembly and open forum.
  • Publish revised on-orbit safety standards inclusive of lessons learned from on-going commercial and government activity.

Experimental Spaceplane One (XSP)
$62 million

The goal of the XSP program is to develop and flight demonstrate a prototype booster and expendable upper stage with responsive aircraft-like operations. The program will validate key technologies on the ground, and then fabricate an X-Plane to demonstrate:

  1. 10 flights in 10 days,
  2. design the objective system for >3000-lb payload at a reduced cost, and
  3. fly the demonstration system one time with an orbital payload of 900-lbs, and 4) fly to a high staging speed (Mach 3-10). The anticipated transition partners are the Air Force, Navy and commercial sector.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Complete designs for ground infrastructure.
  • Mature range, ground and flight test operations planning.
  • Submit commercial spaceport and/or DoD range documentation.
  • Begin fabrication of all major subsystems.
  • Initiate acceptance test planning.
  • Begin integration and test of major sub-assemblies, flight and ground systems.

Radar Net
$42 million

The Radar Net program will develop lightweight, low power, wideband capability for radio frequency (RF) communications and remote sensing for a space-based platform.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Complete demonstration system Manufacturing Readiness Review (MRRs).
  • Manufacture and assemble demonstration system.
  • Complete demonstration system Test Readiness Reviews (TRRs).
  • Integrate and test demonstration system.
  • Complete demonstration system Pre-Ship Review (PSR).

Blackjack (Formerly Blue Check)
$15 million

The Blackjack program will develop space technologies demonstrating a proliferated smallsat constellation capability in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Capabilities demonstrated will provide constant custody of very large numbers of concurrent targets; target identification, tracking, and characterization; architectural resilience via massive proliferation; and rapid on-orbit technology refresh and experimentation.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Complete demonstration system Conceptual Design Review (CoDR).
  • Complete Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for risk reduction efforts.
  • Begin development of commoditized satellite bus.
  • Begin development of demonstration sensor payloads.
  • Begin ground and on-orbit experimentation with commercial industry satellite constellations for risk reduction efforts.
  • Begin development of autonomous control element.

Planar Imager
$10 million

The Planar Imager program will develop a low size, weight, and power (SWaP) electro-optical (EO) imager using photonic integrated circuits (PICs) and other novel approaches to replace conventional telescopes for high altitude, long endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) persistent platforms and space-based EO sensors for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).

FY 2019 Plans

  • Develop scaled-up system design of PIC unit.
  • Integrate detectors directly into PIC design.
  • Complete program System Requirements Review (SRR).
  • Begin development of breadboard planar imager laboratory demonstrator.

Hallmark
$10 million

The Hallmark program seeks to demonstrate a space Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) capability to provide U.S. senior leadership the tools needed to effectively manage space assets in real time.

FY 2019 Plans:

  • Release Hallmark software development kit including Hallmark in-a-box for remote development environment.
  • Transition activity for sustainment of ontology and data model continuous evolution, and for sustainment of BMC2 tool development environment.

Responsive Access for Space Resilience (RASR):
DARPA Launch Challenge

$5 Million

Advances in technology, including networking and computing, have significantly increased the utility of small (<300kg) spacecraft that would previously have been of limited military value. For the simultaneous purposes of responsiveness and resiliency, these spacecraft are envisioned to be built on dramatically faster timelines (weeks instead of years) than are executed today. The current practice for space launch generally favors large launch vehicles with complex, one-of-a-kind infrastructure. This architecture has been matched to the large, heavy spacecraft, which compose most of DoD’s space architecture today. Small spacecraft, which offer large potential value for resiliency and tactical employment, are typically required to rideshare for access to space which requires programmatic, technical, and schedule entanglement with other programs.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Investigation of commercial partnerships for space payloads.
  • Assess launch site feasibility and facility technical accommodations.
  • Develop and test multi-launch site compatible downrange telemetry return capabilities.
  • Create scalable commercial payload packages to support range of launch capabilities.

Advanced Space Technology Concepts
$2 million

Studies conducted under this program will examine and evaluate emerging technologies and concepts with the potential to provide substantial improvement in efficiency and effectiveness of operations in space. This includes the degree and scope of potential impact and improvements to military operations, mission utility, and warfighter capability. Studies are also conducted to analyze emerging threats along with possible methods and technologies to counter them.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Perform studies to evaluate employment of new systems and architectures.