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 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."
Source: Southwest Research Institute