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DARPA Selects SwRI’s K-band Space Crosslink Radio for Flight Development as Part of System F6 Program

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently selected Southwest Research Institute to provide the flight low-rate crosslink wireless communications platform for the System F6 Program.

The System F6 Program, which is envisioned to culminate in an on-orbit demonstration in 2015-2016, is designed to validate a new space mission concept in which a cluster of smaller, wirelessly connected spacecraft replaces the typical single spacecraft carrying numerous instruments and payloads. This “fractionated” architecture enhances survivability, responsiveness and adaptability compared to the traditional monolithic spacecraft. The SwRI K-band radio is a core element of the open source F6 Developers Kit (FDK), which allows any spacecraft to participate in an F6-enabled cluster.

SwRI’s K-band wireless crosslink radio incorporates a continuously active communications channel with guaranteed availability and latency via a Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) protocol to provide a reliable, robust and flexible solution for a variety of mission communications needs. Unique to SwRI’s K-band radio is a core architecture that accommodates a continuous data link among the cluster members and also supports inclusion of third-party, point-to-point, high-rate data links. The SwRI-developed F6 Wireless Inter-Module Communications System (F6WICS) protocol incorporates a data link layer ready for integration with higher level network protocols to allow distributed computing with unique mechanisms for maximizing bandwidth allocations.

“As a nonprofit organization, Southwest Research Institute is ideally suited to support the DARPA System F6 FDK through the development of the K-band crosslink solution,” says Dr. Mark Tapley, a staff engineer in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division and principal investigator for the wireless system. “System F6 is truly a game-changing paradigm for space missions that has broad applicability across not only national security programs, but also traditional scientific missions in which mission durability, reconfigurability, distributed measurements and expandability are enabling technologies.”

Founded in 1947, SwRI has been a pioneer in complex radio-frequency system development for commercial and government clients. SwRI is a leading provider of spacecraft avionics and instrumentation for NASA, DOD, ESA and the commercial space industry. SwRI has provided avionics systems for more than 60 missions without an on-orbit failure and currently serves as the principal investigator institution for NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), New Horizons and Juno missions, as well as for the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission instrument suite. SwRI is also developing eight microsatellites for the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), NASA’s first spaceborne Earth Venture-class mission.

About SwRI:

SwRI is an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas, with nearly 3,000 employees and an annual research volume of more than $584 million. Southwest Research Institute and SwRI are registered marks in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For more information about Southwest Research Institute, please visit newsroom.swri.org or www.swri.org.

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