DARPA Requests Quarter Billion for Space Development Programs

Artist’s conception of Boeing’s Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1). (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

DARPA has requested $254.67 million to fund a variety of space programs for FY 2019. The total includes funds for work on an experimental space plane, a responsive launch competition, and robotic on-orbit servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

The $62 million requested for the Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1) program would fund continuing work by Boeing to create a launch vehicle capable of flying 10 times in 10 days. Plans for FY 2019 include fabricating all major subsystems and the integration and testing of major sub-assemblies, flight and ground systems.

Credit: DARPA

The DARPA Launch Challenge aims to demonstrate the ability to launch satellites quickly, change sites and then quickly launch again. The agency has requested $5 million for the program in FY 2019.

DARPA has proposed spending just under $109 million on the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

“Technologies for servicing of GEO spacecraft would involve a mix of highly automated and remotely operated (from Earth) robotic systems,” the agency said in budget documents.

DARPA has requested $42 million on Radar Net, which is focused on the development of lightweight, low power, wideband capability for radio frequency (RF) communications and remote sensing for a space-based platform.

The agency is also seeking $37 million for four other programs — Blackjack, Planar Imager, Hallmark and Advanced Space Technology Concepts — that are focused on various space technologies. The programs are described in the table below.

DARPA FY 2019 BUDGET REQUEST FOR SPACE
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION
FY19 FUNDING (Millions $)
Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS)Demonstration of robotic servicing capabilities for GEO satellites $108.671
Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1)Low-cost reusable vehicle capable of 10 flights in 10 days$62
Radar NetDevelopment of lightweight, low power, wideband capability for radio frequency (RF) communications and remote sensing for a space-based platform $42
Blackjack (Formerly Blue Check)Development of space technologies demonstrating a proliferated smallsat constellation capability in low Earth orbit (LEO) $15
Planar ImagerDevelopment of a low size, weight, and power (SWaP) electro-optical (EO) imager using photonic integrated circuits (PICs) and other novel approaches to replace conventional telescopes for high altitude, long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) persistent platforms and space-based EO sensors for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)$10
 HallmarkDemonstration of a space battle management command and control (BMC2) capability to provide U.S. senior leadership the tools needed to effectively manage space assets in real time$10
Responsive Access for Space Resilience (RASR): DARPA Launch ChallengeDemonstration of ability to quickly launch satellites, change sites and then quickly launch again$5
Advanced Space Technology ConceptsStudies to examine and evaluate emerging technologies and concepts with the potential to provide substantial improvement in efficiency and effectiveness of operations in space$2
TOTAL:$254.671

Below are summaries of each program with lists of what DARPA expects to accomplish in FY 2019. The information is taken from agency budget documents.

Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS)
$108.671 million

A large number of national security and commercial space systems operate at geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO), providing persistence and enabling ground station antennas to point in a fixed direction. Technologies for servicing of GEO spacecraft would involve a mix of highly automated and remotely operated (from Earth) robotic systems.

FY 2019 Plans:

  • Begin integration of robotic payload.
  • Complete build and test of second robotic arm and tool changer.
  • Fabricate robotic operations test bed.
  • Complete build of flight units of robotic tools and tool holders.
  • Begin preparations for launch with Air Force Space Test Program.
  • Complete build of rendezvous and proximity operations sensors.
  • Complete payload structures fabrication.
  • Test final build of flight software.
  • Convene CONFERS second general assembly and open forum.
  • Publish revised on-orbit safety standards inclusive of lessons learned from on-going commercial and government activity.

Experimental Spaceplane One (XSP)
$62 million

The goal of the XSP program is to develop and flight demonstrate a prototype booster and expendable upper stage with responsive aircraft-like operations. The program will validate key technologies on the ground, and then fabricate an X-Plane to demonstrate:

  1. 10 flights in 10 days,
  2. design the objective system for >3000-lb payload at a reduced cost, and
  3. fly the demonstration system one time with an orbital payload of 900-lbs, and 4) fly to a high staging speed (Mach 3-10). The anticipated transition partners are the Air Force, Navy and commercial sector.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Complete designs for ground infrastructure.
  • Mature range, ground and flight test operations planning.
  • Submit commercial spaceport and/or DoD range documentation.
  • Begin fabrication of all major subsystems.
  • Initiate acceptance test planning.
  • Begin integration and test of major sub-assemblies, flight and ground systems.

Radar Net
$42 million

The Radar Net program will develop lightweight, low power, wideband capability for radio frequency (RF) communications and remote sensing for a space-based platform.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Complete demonstration system Manufacturing Readiness Review (MRRs).
  • Manufacture and assemble demonstration system.
  • Complete demonstration system Test Readiness Reviews (TRRs).
  • Integrate and test demonstration system.
  • Complete demonstration system Pre-Ship Review (PSR).

Blackjack (Formerly Blue Check)
$15 million

The Blackjack program will develop space technologies demonstrating a proliferated smallsat constellation capability in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Capabilities demonstrated will provide constant custody of very large numbers of concurrent targets; target identification, tracking, and characterization; architectural resilience via massive proliferation; and rapid on-orbit technology refresh and experimentation.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Complete demonstration system Conceptual Design Review (CoDR).
  • Complete Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for risk reduction efforts.
  • Begin development of commoditized satellite bus.
  • Begin development of demonstration sensor payloads.
  • Begin ground and on-orbit experimentation with commercial industry satellite constellations for risk reduction efforts.
  • Begin development of autonomous control element.

Planar Imager
$10 million

The Planar Imager program will develop a low size, weight, and power (SWaP) electro-optical (EO) imager using photonic integrated circuits (PICs) and other novel approaches to replace conventional telescopes for high altitude, long endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) persistent platforms and space-based EO sensors for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).

FY 2019 Plans

  • Develop scaled-up system design of PIC unit.
  • Integrate detectors directly into PIC design.
  • Complete program System Requirements Review (SRR).
  • Begin development of breadboard planar imager laboratory demonstrator.

Hallmark
$10 million

The Hallmark program seeks to demonstrate a space Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) capability to provide U.S. senior leadership the tools needed to effectively manage space assets in real time.

FY 2019 Plans:

  • Release Hallmark software development kit including Hallmark in-a-box for remote development environment.
  • Transition activity for sustainment of ontology and data model continuous evolution, and for sustainment of BMC2 tool development environment.

Responsive Access for Space Resilience (RASR):
DARPA Launch Challenge

$5 Million

Advances in technology, including networking and computing, have significantly increased the utility of small (<300kg) spacecraft that would previously have been of limited military value. For the simultaneous purposes of responsiveness and resiliency, these spacecraft are envisioned to be built on dramatically faster timelines (weeks instead of years) than are executed today. The current practice for space launch generally favors large launch vehicles with complex, one-of-a-kind infrastructure. This architecture has been matched to the large, heavy spacecraft, which compose most of DoD’s space architecture today. Small spacecraft, which offer large potential value for resiliency and tactical employment, are typically required to rideshare for access to space which requires programmatic, technical, and schedule entanglement with other programs.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Investigation of commercial partnerships for space payloads.
  • Assess launch site feasibility and facility technical accommodations.
  • Develop and test multi-launch site compatible downrange telemetry return capabilities.
  • Create scalable commercial payload packages to support range of launch capabilities.

Advanced Space Technology Concepts
$2 million

Studies conducted under this program will examine and evaluate emerging technologies and concepts with the potential to provide substantial improvement in efficiency and effectiveness of operations in space. This includes the degree and scope of potential impact and improvements to military operations, mission utility, and warfighter capability. Studies are also conducted to analyze emerging threats along with possible methods and technologies to counter them.

FY 2019 Plans

  • Perform studies to evaluate employment of new systems and architectures.

  • Michael Halpern

    Boeing’s doing SIDEMOUNT for XS-1?

  • Robert G. Oler

    some interesting projects

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Yet another demonstration of out of date thinking. The real and best route to responsive launch is to be launching every day from multiple locations. Full and rapid reusability reduces launch costs, increases reliability, provides for timely changes of payload and launch location. The concept of XS-1 is the result of 30 year-old thinking; and that they selected a VTHL design over VTVL underlines the wrongheadedness that has motivated and driven this project. Instead of designing glorified weapons systems, they should be supporting and working towards a sustainable low cost access to space launch industry. SpaceX, and hopefully others, will make this project, and its technological approach, redundant within 10 years.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    where’d you get that info?

  • Michael Halpern

    The picture at the top

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I would have called that TOPmounted for plane-esque first stage … tomayto, tomarto, I suppose.
    Also, how accurate will that “Artist’s conception” turn out to be?.

  • Michael Halpern

    its a vertical take off, considered side mount

  • ThomasLMatula

    When the world changes it is often hard for folks to keep up with the implications of it.

    BTW when I saw that picture my first thought was that the X-34 has returned.

    https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/multimedia/photogallery/photos/photogallery/x33_34/x33_x34.html

  • Michael Halpern

    Horizontal landing does have potential in reusable small launch where the mass of wings and structure for off axis stress is less compared to fuel for VTVL however whats more of an issue with XS-1 is hydrolox,

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Agreed on the hydrolox – best route to an oversized overpriced vehicle is low density propellant.

    “…where the mass of wings and structure for off axis stress is less compared to fuel for VTVL…”
    I think mean “if”, not “where”. Indeed, can the mass of wings and horizontal landing structural additions be made less than fuel and landing legs?. SpaceX don’t think so. Blue Origin don’t think so, Masten don’t think so. I’m inclined to suspect that anyone launching vertically (which really includes air launch too) is only choosing to land horizontally on some misplaced ideological basis.

  • Michael Halpern

    if your launcher is too small the fuel needed for propulsive landing represents a much higher payload penalty than it does otherwise hence why if you want to scale down reuse it makes sense to use other strategies, that work better for smaller payloads than they do for larger ones

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    if your launcher is too small the mass of wings and off axis structural strengthening represents a much higher payload penalty than it does otherwise hence why if you want to scale down reuse it makes sense to use other strategies, that work better for smaller payloads than they do for larger ones – such as stretching the tanks to accommodate extra propellant for return and landing – using colder denser propellant to reduce the vehicle dry mass fraction.
    Mass in the launcher is mass in the launcher, claiming wings work better on small vehicles and fuel works better on larger vehicles makes no sense. Basically, if you want the launcher (or part of it) back, then the first strategy that all designs must utilise is to reduce the payload capacity.

  • Michael Halpern

    Airbus’ recoverable engine pod

  • Larry J

    It makes sense. First, they don’t have to give up internal volume for a cargo bay that could be better spent on propellant tanks. Second, they don’t have to worry about the weight, expense, and failure modes of opening cargo doors to eject the upper stage. Side mounting is simpler, lighter, and likely more reliable. Now, they just need to protect the upper stage from ice sluffing off of the cyrogenic propellant tanks.

  • Larry J

    DARPA supports the military and the military has some unique needs of its own. By way of analogy, just because you can carry cargo on a 747, it doesn’t negate the need for specialized aircraft like the C-130 and C-17 to meet military requirements a commercial plane can’t.

  • Michael Halpern

    It adds drag and because the goal is 10 flights in 10 days they can’t use pyrotectics so just as complicated and there is no reason they can’t use top mount

  • Larry J

    Top mount might interfere with the aerodynamics or center of gravity for this particular vehicle.

  • Michael Halpern

    So can side mount, that’s what gimbaling is for, on re-entry it wouldn’t be there

  • Larry J

    I suspect Boeing took a look at both configurations (and many others) before choosing this configuration. Perhaps they know more about what they’re doing than you or I.

  • Michael Halpern

    Not really, this is a standard easy money development project to them, longer it takes, the more money they get.

  • Larry J

    DARPA projects tend not to work that way. DARPA frequently kills projects outright when they prove unfeasible. Since the organization’s mandate is to “swing for the bleachers” technology-wise, a high percentage of all DARPA projects fail. When they succeed, they tend to be very significant, such as the Internet and GPS.

  • Michael Halpern

    Yes but reuse has proven feasible now they want it smaller

  • Larry J

    Again, the military has its own requirements that can’t always be met with Commercial Off The Self (COTS) solutions. DARPA is exploring another approach to reuse that could suit the military’s needs better even than what SpaceX is accomplishing. If they can succeed with 10 flights in 10 days, it’ll be a while before SpaceX or Blue Origin will be able to match that performance.

  • Michael Halpern

    They have their own needs but a launch is a launch

  • Larry J

    A launch when and where you need it, on your own schedule, is the point. That’s why the military not only contracts out for satellite bandwidth but also operates their own fleet of communications satellites. That’s why they operate their own fleet of transport planes in addition to contracting out for civilian airlift. Hiring civilian capabilities makes great economic sense but isn’t the be-all and end-all to meeting specific military needs. Even a company as capable and versatile as SpaceX would have a hard time meeting a requirement for a launch a day, every day. The only way the military could make that work would be to have prebuilt payloads in the can and ready for rapid launch. There are several scenarios where the need to do just that exists and this DARPA project is one approach to making that possible.

  • Michael Halpern

    And they are looking into responsive launch on the commercial end, with Stratolaunch, Rocket Lab and Vector

  • Larry J

    Which is good because not every approach is going to work but exploring alternatives increases your chances of success.

    Random thought: I wonder if it would be possible to air-launch a derivative of Boeing’s hypersonic vehicle from Stratolaunch’s monster airplane?

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…the military has some unique needs of its own”
    No they don’t, that’s just contrived justification nonsense – they want to put hardware into orbit, and they want to be able to do it at short notice, and that’s it. The facility to launch often and/or at short notice didn’t (as still doesn’t) exist and so they started this project to be able to do it. And in the process they chose the wrong technological solution to achieve their goals. By they time they get this system operational, and long before they get any meaningful use out of it, commercial space will have shown them the error of their ways. Just because they dress up in pretty uniforms, doesn’t immune them them from making bad decisions.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Adeline sounds like a joke idea sold to them by Tory Bruno. Why not just design the launcher for reuse from the start, and then they wouldn’t have to devise comical solutions to correct for having made the wrong engine choice for the vehicle size.

  • Larry J

    They’ve been working on the idea of Operationally Responsive Space for a long time. One of the problems with the idea is the lack of launch on demand capability. This is DARPA’s latest attempt at tackling the launch problem.

    But what do I know – I only worked on military space systems (both in and out of the service) for over 20 years. I can’t possibly know more about what the military needs that some random guy on the Internet.

  • Michael Halpern

    There are several problems with xs 1, it started as a way to recoup investment on previous spaceplane projects most notably liquid fly back, next it’s using an engine with an approximate description of being a slightly smaller rs 25 which have a several month turnaround time finally its huge, if they were concerned with volume they wouldn’t use hydrolox

  • Michael Halpern

    Yes but if your whole rocket has a similar mass as Adeline, the idea has potential, as for Bruno, no his reuse plans are more commical, it’s a shame really, there are so many better ways an inflatable heat shield can be useful

  • publiusr

    I seem to remember some mini-STS concepts way back in the JOURNAL OF SPACECRAFT AND ROCKETS

    https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/abs/10.2514/2.7588

    I wonder what two smaller solids to either side of it–with it being filled with kerosene would do….
    https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/abs/10.2514/2.3270