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Why the Pentagon wants to develop a network of space lasers

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DARPA, the high-risk, high-reward R&D arm of the Pentagon, has set its sights on laser connections. The agency is specifically working to develop an interconnected network of connections for fast and secure communications between military, civilian and commercial space assets.

The DARPA program, known as the Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node (Space-BACN), recently announced 11 Phase 1 winners.

Space-BACN

The Phase 1 Space-BACN awards fall into three technical areas:

  1. Developing a flexible, low-cost optical diaphragm that meets DARPA’s technical requirements. Mynaric, MBRYONICS and CACI, Inc. received this award.
  2. Developing a reconfigurable optical modem that can support 100 Gbps on one wavelength. II-VI Aerospace and Defense, Arizona State University and Intel Federal, LLC won this award.
  3. Identification of the command and control elements that allow Space-BACN to communicate with commercial satellite operators and other constellations. SpaceX, Telesat, SpaceLink, Viasat and Amazon’s Kuiper received this award.

SpaceLink, an award winner from the third category, shared some extra color about its role in the program on Monday. The McLean, Virginia-based company is working on a constellation of four MEO optical (aka laser) data relay satellites that will enable faster communications with satellites in low Earth orbit.

“We’ve lived in a dial-up world,” said Dave Bettinger, CEO of SpaceLink. “We’re at the root of a huge adoption curve.”

SpaceLink’s planned constellation is designed so that it can connect to any satellite in low Earth orbit and downlink directly to a ground station. Laser communications are also safer, as they use a much narrower beam than radio communications and are more difficult to intercept.

  • This is a “natural defense against opponents who may be jamming or listening” to your cues, Bettinger said.
  • Today, the time between the moment an operator notices that he needs data and the time it reaches him can be hours or even days. “With our system, we can reduce that to minutes,” said SpaceLink chief strategy and commercial officer Tony Colucci.

SpaceLink’s system is compatible with the optical communications systems being built by both DARPA and the SDA, tailoring the technology to the needs of government and military.

the result

Optical communications are having a moment as multiple government programs and commercial space companies seek to increase communications speed and safety from orbit.

This story originally appeared On payload and is republished here with permission.

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