March 7, 2008 Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company has received a $5.7 million contract from DARPA to head a team to compete in Phase 1 of the System F6 space technology program. F6 - meaning Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractioned, Free-Flying Spacecraft United by Information Exchange – is an attempt to construct a networked, module-based alternative to singular, monolithic satellites.
Due to their bulk, current satellite systems can only be launched from a small number of large vehicles, are difficult to upgrade and reconfigure, and are risk-intensive. The DARPA System F6 program aims to replace single satellites with a network of formation flying, or loosely connected, micro satellites that can work together to provide the same capabilities as a monolithic satellite. The functions of a regular satellite would be partitioned in a System F6 model, with the power, receiver, control, computing, payload functionality and ground communication capabilities housed in separate modules. This would result in a lighter, safer and more flexible and adaptable system.
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The F6 program encourages companies to develop, design and test new satellite architectures that include features like ultra-secure intra-system wireless data communications, wireless power systems, electromagnetic formation flying systems, remote attitude determination systems, structure-less optical and RF arrays, distributed spacecraft computing systems, and reliable, robust, rapidly re-locatable ground systems.
The program guidelines require prospective models to have two or more modules, each under 300kg; have pre and post launch system functionality; demonstrate 99% mission availability over one month; be easily mass-producible; and have an exhaustive hardware and software interface specification. If all goes to schedule, the first launches should occur in 2012.
The Lockheed Martin led effort combines research and technology from ATX, LMSSC Surveillance & Navigation Systems, Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Services, Colbaugh & Heinsheimer, Aurora Flight Sciences, and Vanderbilt University.
“Our team brings together the perfect combination of innovation, expertise, experience and past performance to successfully demonstrate the value and flexibility of a fractionated approach to satellite systems,” said Dr. Jim Ryder, vice president of the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto. “For our 12 Month Phase 1 preliminary design effort, we will evaluate fractionation technologies and system econometrics, simulate the fractionated space network mission with our extensive space-qualified hardware-in-the-loop and Controls & Automation Laboratory testbeds and work closely with our DARPA partner to conduct a thorough stakeholder analysis to identify potential mission partners.”