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Southwest Research Institute space-based wireless communications platform selected for DARPA System F6 Program

June 21, 2011 — The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has chosen Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) as a provider of the wireless communications platform for the System F6 program.

The System F6 program is a development and demonstration program designed to validate the utility and performance of a "fractionated" spacecraft architecture. The concept envisions a spacecraft or satellite as separate elements, or nodes, that are connected wirelessly to form a virtual spacecraft. In an F6-enabled mission, a typical spacecraft or satellite carrying a dozen instruments or sensors is replaced with individual sensor nodes connected wirelessly to support mission goals. This fractionated architecture is expected to provide a robust, rapid-response and reconfigurable alternative to future space missions compared to traditional spacecraft designs.

SwRI's wireless solution for F6 combines a continuously active communications channel with guaranteed availability across the entire space cluster with high performance directional point-to-point links to maximize node connectivity and utilized bandwidth. The system incorporates a robust data layer ready for integration in higher level network protocols for full cluster connectivity.

"Southwest Research Institute is dedicated to the fractionated vision embodied by DARPA's System F6 program and the paradigm shift in mission concepts and architectures," says Dr. Mark Tapley, a staff engineer in SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division and principal investigator of the wireless communications system. "System F6 is about more than simple technology development, it's a core building block enabling a new way of architecting and providing space resources in an extremely flexible and open manner."

Founded in 1947, SwRI has been a pioneer in complex radio frequency system development for commercial and government clients. SwRI also is a leading provider of spacecraft avionics and instrumentation for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Defense, European Space Agency and commercial space programs, with a track record of 53 missions without a single on-orbit failure. Additionally, SwRI currently serves as the principal investigator institution for NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS), New Horizons and Juno missions.

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For more information, contact Maria Stothoff, (210) 522-3305, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.