“Why can’t these devices all just communicate with each other?” DARPA, the popularly scattershot defense research agency of individuals’ hearts, has turned its focus to recent news of actual and planned communications satellite network deployments.
The agency, which recent times asked US defense contractors to build an ekranoplan and deployed a convoy-defense drone that does sneeze the other drones to death, is attempting to develop a low-cost new optical communications platform that would enable newly propelled satellites to exchange large amounts of data easily, quickly, and safely, even if they come from various constellations.
The Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node, (Space-BACN) – which is technically pronounced “space bacon,” believe it or not – promises to connect future satellite constellations to build a huge, thousands-strong consolidated communications network.
“As the demand for affordable space-centered capabilities rises around the world, tens of thousands of small satellites could be launched into LEO over the next decade,” stated Greg Kuperman, who serves as the Space-BACN program manager at DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office. It plans to do so either by launching specialized Space-BACN network hub satellites or attaching future commercial and government spacecraft with the capabilities.
“Due to the many accuracies designed and produced components that are manually built by highly competent personnel in the field, conventional government optical terminals providing coherent space-centered optical communications may spend hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars,” said Kuperman.
“Commercial space businesses, on the other hand, are working on single-mode coherent systems that are ultra-optimized and geared to enable high-rate communications while cutting costs. However, these less expensive systems are not reprogrammable nor interoperable with any other standard,” he stated.
DARPA is seeking suggestions for a standardized optical terminal that will eventually connect future networks while adhering to its “100 cubed” standards. To encourage acceptance from current and future constellation builders, the terminal ought to possess a throughput of a minimum of 100 gigabits for every second, require below 100 watts of the power, and cost below $100,000. DARPA is also requesting proposals for three key technology components of a system in order to accelerate the development of technologies that will support Space-BACN.
The first is the low-cost optical aperture that can use all C band infrared wavelengths and feed into a low-cost single-mode fiber-optic line, enabling low-cost, low-loss transmission. The second is a reprogrammable modem that can handle a variety of waveforms. A “cross-constellation control and command” system would be the last piece, which would autonomously coordinate the disparate networks into a cohesive whole. In its efforts to create Space-BACN as the new standard, DARPA is also expecting that low Earth orbit (LEO) structure used by most of the new developing constellations would work in its favor.