The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded the second phase of the system F6 (future, fast, flexible, fractionated, free-flying spacecraft united by information exchange) fractionated spacecraft demonstrator programme to a Orbital Sciences team.

The Orbital Sciences team including IBM and the Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will work on the the year-long contract valued at $74.6m.

In the second phase, the team will develop a detailed system design, complete the majority of software development, deliver additional iterations of the hardware-in-the-loop testbed to include breadboard implementation of critical hardware, and conclude with a critical design review.

The System F6 programme includes two principle technology goals.

One goal is the development of safe, autonomous, efficient, and rapidly reconfigurable multibody cluster flight techniques.

The other is the development of a real-time, fault-tolerant resource-sharing architecture operating over a packet-switched wireless network capable of supporting multilevel security (MLS).

With an on-orbit demonstration of a fractionated space architecture in 2013, the programme will culminate, where a cluster of free-flying spacecraft modules wirelessly share resources and functionality to synthesise the capability of a much larger virtual spacecraft.

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The cluster reconfiguration to accommodate the insertion of new spacecraft modules, the addition of new components as network-accessible resources, rapid defensive cluster scatter and regather manoeuvers, will take place during a series of on-orbit tests.

The transfer of mission-critical processes throughout the cluster and terrestrial network nodes will also be part of the on-orbit tests.