Orbital Construction: DARPA Pursues Plan for Robust Manufacturing in Space

Credit: DARPA

New program to develop designs and materials for building large structures on orbit and moon

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — As commercial space companies increase the cadence of successful rocket launches, access to space is becoming more routine for both government and commercial interests. But even with regular launches, modern rockets impose mass and volume limits on the payloads they deliver to orbit. This size constraint hinders developing and deploying large-scale, dynamic space systems that can adapt to changes in their environment or mission.

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DARPA Satellites Damaged in Processing Accident, Removed from SpaceX Transporter-1 Rideshare Mission

When a SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with dozens of satellites aboard on the Transporter-1 rideshare mission later this month, it will do so without a pair of experimental satellites from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

SpaceNews reports the two small satellites that make up DARPA’s Mandrake 2 mission were damaged during a pre-launch processing mishap at SpaceX processing facility in Florida.

According to an industry source the mishap happened while the satellites were being stacked and the payload separation system was accidentally released. SpaceX did not respond to questions on what caused the mishap.

The Mandrake 2 satellites are equipped with optical inter-satellite links for broadband data transmission. DARPA is testing this technology as the possible basis of future optically meshed computer networks in low Earth orbit.

The satellites are part of DARPA’s Blackjack program, which is focused on developing advanced space technologies.

SpaceX’s Transporter-1 rideshare mission is now scheduled for Jan. 21 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Falcon 9 will deploy the payloads into sun-synchronous orbit.

Small Satellite Leader Blue Canyon Technologies Completes CDR for DARPA Blackjack Program

BCT demonstrated maturity and capability of its X-SAT bus design which will enhance LEO communications for the U.S. Department of Defense

BOULDER, Colo. (Blue Canyon Technology PR) — Leading small satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies, Inc. (“BCT” or “Blue Canyon”) announced today that it has completed its critical design review (CDR) for the Blackjack Program, a military space capabilities demonstration being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

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Biden Appoints Ellen Stofan to Lead NASA Agency Review Team

Ellen Stofan (Credit: Smithsonian Institution)
  • Former astronaut Pam Melroy and Kathryn Sullivan also named to review teams
  • Former XPRIZE vice president leads OSTP team

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

President-elect Joe Biden has appointed former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan to lead the review team assigned to the space agency.

Stofan, a planetary scientist who became the first female director of the National Air and Space Museum in 2018, leads an eight-member team that includes former NASA astronaut Pam Melroy and former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati.

Biden has also appointed Kathryn Sullivan, who was part of the first group of women recruited as NASA astronauts, to serve on the agency review team for the Department of Commerce.

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Telesat U.S. Services Awarded DARPA Contract for Blackjack Track B Research, Development and in-Orbit Demonstration with Telesat LEO

Telesat U.S. Services will deliver two spacecraft in less than one year to showcase the use of Optical Inter-Satellite Links in orbit for government requirements

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, October 14, 2020 (Telesat U.S. Services PR) – Telesat U.S. Services, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of leading global satellite operator Telesat, has been awarded a contract by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for the development and in-orbit demonstration of commercial low-Earth-orbit (LEO) spacecraft buses in a LEO constellation network with robust low-latency communications features as part of DARPA’s Blackjack program.

Following Telesat’s initial 2018 contract for system engineering and interface definition under the Blackjack Phase 1 program, Telesat U.S. Services will develop and demonstrate the Blackjack Phase 2/3 Track B technology, including in-orbit testing the capabilities of Optical Inter-Satellite Links (OISLs).  

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DARPA Completes Key Milestone on Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapons Program

Artist’s illustration of hypersonic missile. (Credit: DARPA)

Risk reduction milestone paves way for airborne tests this year

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — DARPA and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) today announced successful completion of captive carry tests of two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) and are ready to proceed to first free-flight testing within the calendar year. The joint Agency and Service effort seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.

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Department of Defense Announces New DARPA Director, Dr. Victoria Coleman

WASHINGTON, August 31, 2020 (DoD PR) — Today, the Department of Defense named Dr. Victoria Coleman as the director of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). 

Dr. Coleman’s career spans over 30 years in academia, the private sector, and government, including previous service as the founding Chair of DARPA’s Microsystems Exploratory Council and membership on the Defense Science Board.

She has led cutting edge research and development across the technology sector, to include service as the Chief Executive Officer of Atlas AI; Senior Vice President at Technicolor; Chief Technology Officer of Connected Home Business; Vice President, Engineering at Yahoo!; Vice President, Software Engineering at Hewlett-Packard Palm Global Business Unit; and Director for Security Initiatives at Intel.

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Miniature Telescope Demonstration Focuses on Sharpening View of Distant Objects in Space

DARPA’s Deformable Mirror CubeSat deployed from the International Space Station July 13. (Credit: NASA)

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — A recently deployed DARPA CubeSat seeks to demonstrate technology that could improve imaging of distant objects in space and allow powerful space telescopes to fit into small satellites. DARPA’s Deformable Mirror (DeMi) CubeSat deployed from the International Space Station July 13, beginning the technology demonstration of a miniature space telescope with a small deformable mirror called a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) mirror.

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Parts Come Together This Year for DARPA’s Robotic In-Space Mechanic

Flight manipulator arm, part of the RSGS robotic payload. (Credit: Naval Research Laboratory)

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — Eyeing a launch in 2023, DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program will focus the remainder of this year on completing the elements of the robotic payload. The objective of RSGS is to create an operational dexterous robotic capability to repair satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), extending satellite life spans, enhancing resilience, and improving reliability for the current U.S. space infrastructure.

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Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics Subsidiary Selected by DARPA for Robotic Servicing Mission

The Mission Robotic Vehicle, shown with DARPA’s RSGS Robotic Payload is pioneering robotic servicing of satellites. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

DULLES, Va., March 4, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – SpaceLogistics LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has been selected by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as its commercial partner for the agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

The groundbreaking mission will feature the first-ever commercial robotic servicing spacecraft and aims to expand the market for satellite servicing of both commercial and government client satellites with advanced robotics technology. The program objectives include enhanced capabilities such as in-orbit repair, augmentation, assembly, detailed inspection and relocation of client satellites.

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Watch Astra Space Launch Today Live From Alaska

The launch is scheduled for today, weather permitting. Tune in and see if it flies, dies or just sits there for another day.

UPDATE: Launch postponed until Sunday due to weather. Time TBA.

Derek Tournear Named Director of DOD’s Space Development Agency

Derek Tournear

WASHINGTON (DoD PR) — The Department of Defense (DoD) today announced the selection of Dr. Derek Tournear as the first permanent director of the Space Development Agency. 

Established in March, the Space Development Agency is responsible for unifying and integrating the Department’s space development efforts, monitoring the Department’s threat-driven future space architecture, and accelerating fielding of new military space capabilities necessary to ensure U.S. technological and military advantages in space. To achieve this mission, SDA is defining the National Defense Space Architecture—an integrated, coherent architecture capable of addressing the eight critical, yet unmet, priorities of the DoD Space Vision.

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Saturn Satellite Networks to Acquire NovaWurks

Space News reports that Saturn Satellite Networks has reached a deal to acquire NovaWurks, a California company that builds modular satellites.

Saturn and Novawurks did not disclose the terms of the transaction. Tom Choi, Saturn co-founder and executive chairman, told SpaceNews by email that the deal is “well into seven figures in U.S. dollars.”

Saturn, a firm founded by former executives of fleet operator ABS of Bermuda to build Nationsat, a digital platform for small geostationary satellites, signed a definitive agreement to acquire NovaWurks, a company that has conducted demonstrations of its Hyper Integrated Satlets (HISats) including a 2018 spaceflight demonstration for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Saturn plans to acquire NovaWurks over three years for cash and stocks. Once the deal is completed, NovaWurks will become a wholly owned Saturn subsidiary and its shareholders will become minority shareholders of Saturn.

Through the acquisition, Saturn seeks to accelerate its Nationsat program.

A Brief History of Spaceport America

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

UPDATED: 8/20/19, 12:08 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sometime in 2020, if all goes according to plan, British billionaire Richard Branson will board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at Spaceport America in New Mexico and take the first commercial suborbital space flight in history.

The landmark flight, which Virgin has been trying to conduct for 15 years, will also be the culmination of a 30-year effort by New Mexico to become a commercial space power.

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