DARPA Moves Forward With Phoenix, ALASA and XS-1 Projects

Artist's conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)
Artist’s conception of a nominal X-S1 vehicle. (Credit: DARPA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

DARPA’s proposed budget for FY 2015 calls for a significant increase in its Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1) program and smaller boosts in the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program and Project Phoenix, budget documents show.

The defense agency has requested $27 million for re-useable XS-1 space plane this year, a significant boost over the $10 million being spent for FY 2014. With the increase in funding, DARPA plans to conduct a preliminary design review (PDR) and select a single vendor for final design, fabrication and flight test in the coming fiscal year, which will start on Oct. 1.

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Millennium Space Tests SeeMe Micro-Satellite Bus

millennium-space-sytstemsTorrance, CA (Millennium Space Systems PR) — Millennium Space Systems announced today the successful high-altitude balloon test of its new microsatellite bus, developed under the company’s DARPA SeeMe contract.

During a 1.5-hour flight to nearly 30 kilometers altitude over California’s Mojave Desert, Millennium engineers exercised key satellite subsystems and operational capabilities. The SeeMe prototype carried a telescope and new technology digital camera developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which successfully captured images of the Earth during the mission, simulating the intended orbital capability.

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DARPA’s SeeMe Program Targeted for Cancellation

Space News reports that the Senate Appropriations Committee wants to cancel DARPA’s Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) project, which aims to develop a constellation of low-cost imaging satellites capable of delivering data to handheld devices in real time.

The committee has nixed $10.5 million from the FY 2014 budget that the agency would use to finish tests on six prototype satellites and receiving technology. The House does not mention the program in its bill.

Left unanswered is the fate of DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which is intended to launch the SeeMe satellites. ALASA’s goal is to quickly launch 100-pound spacecraft into orbit for $1 million apiece. If the SeeMe program is cancelled, would ALASA follow?

Last year, DARPA awarded the following ALASA contracts to six companies:

Launch System Design and Development Concepts

  • Lockheed Martin Corp., Palmdale, Calif.: $6.2 million
  • Boeing, Huntington Beach, Calif., $4.5 million
  • Virgin Galactic, Las Cruces, N.M.

Enabling Technologies

  • Northrup Grumman, El Segundo, Calif., $2.3 million
  • Space Information Laboratories LLC, Santa Maria, Calif., $1.9 million
  • Ventions LLC, San Francisco, Calif., $969,396.

DARPA Awards ATK Contract for SeeMe Program

DARPA_logoARLINGTON, Va., April 22, 2013 (ATK PR) — ATK (NYSE: ATK) was awarded a contract to support the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va. for the Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program.

SeeMe seeks to develop enabling technologies to provide reliable surveillance data to the warfighter in the field, using small, low-cost satellites that are launched quickly to support the speed of military operations.

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An Animated Look at DARPA’s SeeMe Satellite Program

VIDEO CAPTION: DARPA’s SeeMe program aims to give mobile, US warfighters overseas access to on-demand, space-based tactical information in remote and beyond-line-of-sight conditions. If successful, SeeMe will provide timely imagery to warfighters of their immediate surroundings via handheld devices.

Editor’s Note: The satellites are the payloads for DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which aims to put 100-lb. satellites into orbit for less than $1 million apiece. Last year, DARPA awarded six research contracts for the launcher.