DARPA this week opened its giant wallet to spend over $38 million for the initial development of its advanced space technology program that ultimately aims to replace traditional “monolithic” spacecraft with clusters of wirelessly-interconnected spacecraft modules.
The program, called the Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft United by Information Exchange also known as the System F6, is intended to let the agency deploy individual pieces or what it calls “fractionated modules” of current all-in-one satellites. For example, each fractionated module would support a unique capability, such as command and control, data handling, guidance and navigation, payload. Modules could replicate the functions of other modules as well.Such modules can be physically connected once in orbit or remain nearby to each other in a loose formation, or cluster, harnessed together through a wireless network they create a virtual satellite.
According to DARPA such a virtual satellite effectively constitutes a “bus in the sky” – wherein customers need only provide and deploy a payload module suited to their immediate mission need, with the supporting features supplied by a global network of infrastructure modules already resident on-orbit and at critical ground locations. In addition, there can be sharing of resources between various “spacecraft” that are within sufficient range for communication.DARPA said the within the F6 network all subsystems and payloads can be treated like a uniquely addressable computing peripheral or network device.