Tag Archives: DARPA

One step closer

Raytheon Intelligence & Space (RI&S), a Raytheon Technologies business, will build two prototype sensor payloads for DARPA’s Blackjack program, under a $37M contract. Blackjack is a low Earth orbit satellite constellation program that aims to develop and demonstrate the critical elements for persistent global coverage against a range of advanced threats. It seeks to track multiple threats simultaneously for faster and earlier warning for national security.

Constellation of low earth orbit sensors to be delivered to DARPA

«Constellations offer built-in resiliency – strength in numbers», said Wallis Laughrey, Space & Command and Control communication (C2) Systems lead for Raytheon Intelligence & Space. «The entire network of satellites can continue to operate uninterrupted, even if one drops off».

RI&S is reducing integration timelines for rapid deployment, having completed Blackjack’s preliminary design review in October 2019. During preliminary design review, RI&S engaged with major subcontractors to confirm costs and ensure the team would be ready to go to production. The company is leveraging its advanced manufacturing capabilities, fast-production and commercial space programs to deliver the two sensors.

«Blackjack is innovative in its simplicity», said Laughrey. «We’ve incorporated mature tech like advanced algorithms and optics that allow us to go fast, but from day one, our primary design driver was manufacturing for cost».

RI&S’ Blackjack production will support the team for the constellation’s autonomous mission management system, Pit Boss. Pit Boss interconnects all of the data from the Blackjack satellite constellation, acting as the collection and processing hub to deliver data to the right person at the right time.

The RI&S contract goes through critical design review and support to the systems integrator for integration with Pit Boss and the space vehicle. It also includes launch campaign support and the on-orbit demonstration. Following Critical Design Review (CDR) in November 2020, DARPA has the option to order an additional eight or 18 sensor payloads.

Blackjack Program

In partnership with the U.S. Space Force and Space Development Agency, DARPA’s Blackjack program is targeting flights to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) later this year and 2021. Using a series of small risk reduction satellites, the program aims to demonstrate advanced technology for satellite constellation autonomy and space mesh networks. Blackjack seeks to develop and validate critical elements of global high-speed autonomous networks in LEO, proving a capability that could provide the Department of Defense with highly connected, resilient, and persistent overhead coverage.

Blackjack artist’s concept

The upcoming demonstration flights are all planned as rideshares, catching a ride to LEO on a launch with other missions. The first demonstration, Mandrake 1, is a cubesat that will carry supercomputer processing chips. Mandrake 2 is a pair of small satellites that will carry optical inter-satellite links for broadband data. These could form the basis of future optically meshed computer networks in LEO.

The program also is targeting a risk reduction payload called Wildcard, a software-defined radio that will experiment with links from LEO to tactical radios. A data fusion experiment with the ability to host advanced third party algorithms, known as massless payloads, is intended for an upcoming Loft Orbital mission.

«It’s important that we get the design right», says Paul «Rusty» Thomas, the program manager for Blackjack. «We focused first on buses and payloads, then the autonomous mission management system, which we call Pit Boss. We anticipate we’ll begin integrating the first two military payloads next summer with launch via rideshare in late 2021, followed by the remainder of the Blackjack demonstration sub-constellation in 2022».

Blackjack aims to demonstrate sensors that are low in size, weight, and power, and that can be mass produced to fit on many different buses from many different providers, for less than $2 million per payload.

The agency is evaluating buses from Airbus, Blue Canyon Technologies, and Telesat, all of which have progressed through preliminary design review. The final selection of buses will happen in 2020. The program recently completed preliminary design review for Pit Boss, selecting SEAKR as the primary performer for the on-orbit autonomy system. The agency also awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin as the satellite integrator.

Several sensor payloads are under consideration for the Blackjack demonstration sub-constellation, including Overhead Persistent InfraRed (OPIR) from Collins Aerospace and Raytheon; radio frequency systems from Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, Trident, and Systems & Technology Research; position, navigation, and timing from Northrop Grumman; optical inter-satellite links from SA Photonics; and electro-optical/infrared from L3Harris. The program also recently completed a Small Business Innovation Research contract with Augustus Aerospace to work on an Army Space and Missile Defense Command-related payload.

Over the next few months, the program will run simulations to test payloads in virtual constellations of all types of missions. The goal is to show interoperability between the commoditized buses and the various payloads being considered.

«We need to show the constellations can move the right amount of data and support the data fusion and command and control we want from Pit Boss», Thomas said. «From there, we will start building the actual hardware. By late next spring, we will have hardware and then spend next summer focused on satellite-level qualification for launch readiness in late 2021».

VORTEX engine

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, reached a major milestone in the advancement of hypersonic propulsion with its patented VORTEX engine, advancing to the next phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Operational Fires (OpFires) program.

SNC Leverages VORTEX Engine Technology for DARPA’s OpFires Program

Through OpFires, SNC is extending its hybrid VORTEX engine capabilities to advanced, deep throttling, restartable propulsion systems. The system utilizes benign solid fuel with a liquid oxidizer, both of which are storable on Earth and in space. Recent testing shows positive results in being able to package significant energy into a small volume that will have the ability for deep throttling and smooth restart capabilities on command. «The VORTEX flows integrated into the hybrid significantly improves performance of the hybrid engine», said Doctor Marty Chiaverini, director of Propulsion Systems at SNC.

«This program opens up a new market for SNC for preplanned or on-demand propulsion control capabilities that are applicable to both military and beyond Earth orbit propulsion capabilities», said Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s Propulsion & Environmental Systems business unit. «Deep throttling and restart capabilities expand the tools for smart and unpredictable trajectories for various vehicles and systems».

The first two phases of DARPA’s OpFires program focus on the propulsion technologies required to deliver diverse payloads to a variety of ranges. Since Phase 1 contract award, SNC has made critical discoveries in advanced rocket motor technology for the OpFires upper stage, completing more than 30 motor trials from subscale through full size. SNC hopes to demonstrate these engines in flight and offer the engines to new, promising vehicle systems.

In addition to the deep throttling, restartable, storable system for DARPA, SNC is expanding its propulsion capabilities and products with near-term flight for its Dream Chaser spaceplane Reaction Control System, maturation of upper stage engines and development of other liquid storable engines for spacecraft, lunar, and other exploration and protection applications. SNC is also co-investing with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for development of the engine for USAF needs.

Manta Ray Program

DARPA’s Manta Ray Program aims to demonstrate critical technologies for a new class of long duration, long range, payload-capable Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs). UUVs that operate for extended durations without the need for on-site human logistics support or maintenance offer the potential for persistent operations during longer term deployments.

Artist’s concept of Manta Ray UUV

DARPA has selected three companies to focus on development of an integrated solution for Manta Ray technology and operational areas. They are:

  • Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories;
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation;
  • Navatek, LLC.

A fourth company, Metron, Inc., will work toward critical technology and solutions specific to the field of undersea energy harvesting techniques at depths necessary for successful operations.

«The Manta Ray program aims to increase at-sea operational capacity and capabilities for the combatant commander while minimizing disruptions to current operations by remaining independent of crewed vessels and ports once deployed», said CDR Kyle Woerner, the Manta Ray program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «If successful, this new class of UUVs would allow operational flexibility and relief of workload for both traditional host ships and servicing ports».

The Manta Ray program plans to advance key technologies that will benefit future UUV designs, including, but not limited to new energy management and energy harvesting techniques at operationally relevant depths; low-power, high-efficiency propulsion; and new approaches to mitigate biofouling, corrosion, and other material degradation for long duration missions. The program also seeks process improvements, including mission management approaches for extended durations while accounting for dynamic maritime environments; unique methods for leveraging existing maritime datasets and new maritime parameters for high-efficiency navigation; and new low-power means of underwater detection and classification of hazards.

Manta Ray is targeting three phases of development, culminating with a fully integrated demonstration vehicle completing an underwater mission in a dynamic, open-ocean environment.

Glide Breaker

Aerojet Rocketdyne has been awarded a contract worth up to $19.6 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop enabling technologies for an advanced hypersonic defense interceptor known as Glide Breaker.

Artist’s concept of Glide Breaker (Credit: DARPA)

«Advancing hypersonic technology is a national security imperative», said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. «Our team is proud to apply our decades of experience developing hypersonic and missile propulsion technologies to the Glide Breaker program».

According to DARPA, the Glide Breaker program intends to advance the United States’ means to counter hypersonic vehicles. The effort aims to develop and demonstrate a technology that is critical for enabling an advanced interceptor capable of engaging maneuvering hypersonic threats in the upper atmosphere.

Aerojet Rocketdyne supplies both solid-fueled and air-breathing propulsion systems for hypersonic flight. The company provided both types of systems for the joint Air Force-DARPA-NASA X-51A WaveRider, which completed the first practical hypersonic flight of a hydrocarbon-fueled and -cooled scramjet-powered vehicle. More recently, the company successfully completed a series of subscale propulsion-system test firings as part of DARPA’s Operational Fires (OpFires) program, which is an effort to develop a ground-launched hypersonic missile for tactical use.

Advanced Electronics

BAE Systems was awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop the next generation of mixed-signal electronics that could enable new Department of Defense (DoD) applications including high capacity, robust communications, radars, and precision sensors, and lead to solutions that enhance situational awareness and survivability for the warfighter.

DARPA selects BAE Systems to build powerful next-generation advanced electronics

Recognizing that the DoD has performance demands that far exceed the capabilities of the commercial world in terms of speed, fidelity, capacity, and precision, DARPA created the Technologies for Mixed mode Ultra Scaled Integrated Circuits (T-MUSIC) program to enable disruptive Radio Frequency (RF) mixed-mode technologies by developing high performance RF analog electronics integrated with advanced digital electronics on the same wafer.

The next-generation capabilities that could be made possible with this program include a combination of wide spectral coverage, high resolution, large dynamic range, and high information processing bandwidth. These capabilities, which can cut through the electronic signal clutter, provide leap-forward performance that is mission critical as services rely on electronic sensors in highly congested environments. The new developments could be integrated into electronic warfare, communications, precision munitions, and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms.

«T-MUSIC will incorporate analog and digital signals on a single chip for high-performance data converters and digital processing and intelligence», said Chris Rappa, product line director for Radio Frequency, Electronic Warfare, and Advanced Electronics at BAE Systems’ FAST Labs. «The advanced electronics we are developing under the T-MUSIC program could create the foundation for greatly enhanced Department of Defense capabilities in advanced RF sensors and high capacity communications».

As part of the $8 million contract, BAE Systems FAST Labs research and development team – working closely with program foundries – will design and develop wafer-scale technology on a silicon foundry platform that can enable U.S.-based production of next-generation DoD electronics.

The T-MUSIC contract adds to BAE Systems’ advanced electronics portfolio and is based on many years of investment on various programs with the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), U.S. Army, and DARPA, including DARPA’s CONverged Collaborative Elements for RF Task Operations (CONCERTO) and DARPA’s Radio Frequency Field Programmable Gate Arrays (RF-FPGA) programs. Work for the contract will be completed at the company’s facilities in Merrimack, New Hampshire; Lexington, Massachusetts; and Manassas, Virginia.

First Flight

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Gremlins program has completed the first flight test of its X-61A vehicle. The test in late November at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah included one captive-carry mission aboard a C-130A Hercules and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over an hour-and-a-half.

Gremlins air vehicle during a flight test at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, November 2019

The goal for this third phase of the Gremlins program is completion of a full-scale technology demonstration series featuring the air recovery of multiple, low-cost, reusable Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), or «Gremlins». Safety, reliability, and affordability are the key objectives for the system, which would launch groups of UASs from multiple types of military aircraft while out of range from adversary defenses. Once Gremlins complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

The team met all objectives of the test in November, including gathering data on operation and performance, air and ground-based command and control systems, and flight termination. A parachute anomaly occurred in a recovery sequence that is specific to the test series and not part of the operational plan. The incident resulted in the loss of the test vehicle, one of five in the program. Four vehicles remain operational and available for the test series, which will continue in 2020.

«The vehicle performed well, giving us confidence we are on the right path and can expect success in our follow-on efforts», said Scott Wierzbanowski, the program manager for Gremlins in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «We got a closer look at vehicle performance for launch, rate capture, engine start, and transition to free flight. We had simulated the performance on the ground, and have now fully tested them in the air. We also demonstrated a variety of vehicle maneuvers that helped validate our aerodynamic data».

The next step for the program is a full evaluation of the test data, as well as to understand any issues related to the failure for the main parachute to deploy. The team anticipates the second flight test at Dugway in the spring 2020 timeframe to remain on track.

The C-130 Hercules is the demonstration platform for the Gremlins program, but Wierzbanowski says the Services could easily modify the system for another transport aircraft or other major weapons system. Gremlins also can incorporate several types of sensors up to 150 pounds/68 kg, and easily integrate technologies to address different types of stakeholders and missions.

The U.S. Air Force designated the Gremlins air vehicle as X-61A in August in recognition of the technical challenges associated with the program.

A Dynetics-led team is the performer for the Phase 3 demonstration series.

Gremlins X-61A Maiden Test Flight

Angler program

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded six contracts for work on the Angler program, which aims to pioneer the next generation of autonomous underwater robotic systems capable of physical intervention in the deep ocean environment. This class of future Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) must overcome reliance on GPS and human intervention to support infrastructure establishment, maintenance, and resilience over the vastness of the ocean. The Angler program seeks to merge breakthroughs in terrestrial and space robotics, as well as underwater sensing, to develop autonomous robotic solutions capable of navigating and surveying ocean depths, and physically manipulating human-made objects of interest.

Artist’s concept of Angler

Three companies will perform in Track A, focused on developing an integrated solution for all challenges in the Angler technology and operational areas:

  • Leidos;
  • Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation;
  • L3Harris Technologies.

Three companies will perform in Track B, focused on developing solutions specific to the fields of navigation, autonomy, and perception:

  • SoarTech;
  • EdgeTech;

The Angler program envisions numerous benefits, including:

  • Establishing functionality for long-duration mission navigation and autonomy deprived of GPS and surface-based communication;
  • Providing a first-of-its-kind long-distance undersea manipulation platform capable of fully autonomous operation;
  • Advancing perception systems to enable grasping underwater objects in degraded undersea environments.

The program is targeting three phases of development, culminating with a fully integrated prototype completing an underwater mission in a dynamic, open ocean environment.

Machine learning

BAE Systems has been awarded a Phase 2 contract to develop machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The goal of DARPA’s Hallmark Tools, Capabilities, and Evaluation Methodology (Hallmark-TCEM) program is to not only develop and evaluate tools and capabilities that increase an operator’s understanding of space events, but also enhance the ability to select effective courses of action for any given situation.

Machine learning capabilities aimed to help the military gain better awareness of space scenarios

Space assets such as satellites are becoming increasingly important and relied upon by the Department of Defense for communications, surveillance, and security. As part of Hallmark-TCEM, BAE Systems’ FAST Labs research and development team will build cognitive-based machine learning algorithms and data models aimed to give space operators the ability to identify abnormal activities and predict possible threats. The team will build on Phase 1 work of the program, and continue to leverage the decade-long development of the company’s Multi-INT Analytics for Pattern Learning and Exploitation (MAPLE) technology with a solution called MAPLE Automates Joint Indications and Warnings for Cognitive Counter-Space (MAJICS).

«Our technology builds data models based on normal activity and then ingests large amounts of real-time, streaming data to compare against the normal model and determine if any abnormal activity is occurring or will occur», said Doctor John Hogan, product line director of the Sensor Processing and Exploitation group at BAE Systems. «By using this technology, we hope to reduce the operator’s workload by providing a solution that will automatically predict space events such as launches or satellite movements based on millions of pieces of data, helping them make rapid decisions to avoid any potential threats».

BAE Systems’ research on the Hallmark-TCEM program adds to the company’s machine learning and artificial intelligence segment of its autonomy technology portfolio. The capabilities developed under the Hallmark-TCEM effort will be integrated into DARPA’s Hallmark Software Testbed (Hallmark-ST) program. Work for the program will be completed at the company’s facilities in Burlington, Massachusetts and Reston, Virginia.

Tactical Boost Glide

Raytheon Company and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed a successful baseline design review for the Tactical Boost Glide hypersonic weapons program, establishing the company’s technical approach for a critical design review and moving the system a step closer to development and use.

Raytheon, DARPA complete key design review for new hypersonic weapon

A boost glide weapon uses a rocket to accelerate its payload and achieve hypersonic speeds – velocities greater than Mach 5. During flight, the payload separates from the rocket and glides unpowered to its destination.

«We understand the urgency of the need and are working fast to deliver this advanced technology to our nation’s military», said Doctor Thomas Bussing, Raytheon Advanced Missile Systems vice president. «The goal is to keep America ahead of emerging threats, and we are well on our way».

The U.S. military will use hypersonic weapons to engage from longer ranges with shorter response times and with greater effectiveness than current weapon systems.

Earlier this year, Raytheon received a $63 million DARPA contract to further develop the Tactical Boost Glide program, a joint effort between the agency and the U.S. Air Force.