DARPA selects companies for inter-satellite laser communications project

Under a program called Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node (Space-BACN), DARPA seeks a low-cost, reconfigurable optical communications terminal. Credit: DARPA

By Sandra Erwin,
Published by SpaceNews, 10 August 2022

DARPA is pursuing a new laser terminal design that would be compatible with any constellation

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Five commercial satellite operators — SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat and Amazon’s Kuiper — are among 11 organizations selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to help develop laser terminals and technical standards to connect satellites in space.

Under a project called space-based adaptive communications node, or Space-BACN, DARPA is pursuing a new laser terminal design that would be compatible with any constellation and make it easier for government and commercial satellites to talk to each other.  

DARPA announced Aug. 10 it selected 11 teams for phase 1 of Space-BACN. The goal is to create an internet of low Earth orbit satellites, “enabling seamless communication between military, government and commercial and civil satellite constellations that currently are unable to talk with each other,” Greg Kuperman, program manager at DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, said in a statement.

CACI, MBryonics and Mynaric were selected to develop a small optical terminal. II-VI Aerospace and Defense, Arizona State University and Intel Federal will work on a reconfigurable optical modem and will help define the interface between system components.

The five satellite operators will help define command-and-control requirements to support optical intersatellite link communications across constellations.

Phase 1 of Space- BACN will last about 14 months and will conclude with a preliminary design review and a connectivity demonstration in a simulated environment.

DARPA said at the completion of phase 1, some of the providers will be selected to participate in an 18-month phase 2 to develop engineering design units of the optical terminal components. The satellite operators during phase 2 will continue to evolve concepts for cross-constellation communications.

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