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The Military Space Science

DARPA Funds Development on Modular Satellite Network 51

coondoggie points out a Networkworld story about plans for modular satellite technology which is intended to replace modern, "monolithic" devices. The project hopes to solve issues of scalability and reliability by separating the typical satellite systems and allowing the different modules to change function when necessary. Quoting: "According to DARPA such a virtual satellite effectively constitutes a "bus in the sky" - wherein customers need only provide and deploy a payload module suited to their immediate mission need, with the supporting features supplied by a global network of infrastructure modules already resident on-orbit and at critical ground locations. In addition, there can be sharing of resources between various "spacecraft" that are within sufficient range for communication. DARPA said ... within the F6 network all subsystems and payloads can be treated like a uniquely addressable computing peripheral or network device. Such an approach can provide a long sought after "plug-n-play" capability, according to the agency."
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DARPA Funds Development on Modular Satellite Network

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  • Personally, I prefer the F5 network. It really runs well.
  • We can finally apply the lessons of an assembly line to satellites! It only took 50 years...
  • Eeek! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Buzzword overload! I must do a "system reset."
  • Modular hacking (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    One advantage of the system the way it is now, is that every system is unique. Why is that an advantage? Because to hack into one satellite, you have to study that particular satellite in great detail, and there may not be a security flaw that will allow access.

    However, create a modular system, and suddenly any satellite using a compomised module can be hacked. Oh, and did we mention that the Government will be providing the modules? Hellooooo... Clipper Chip, anyone?
  • by stretch0611 ( 603238 ) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:33AM (#22597806) Journal
    It looks to me like it is a internet in space.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by ByteSlicer ( 735276 )
      Yes, and we'll name it SkyNet...
    • by Instine ( 963303 )
      Exactly my thoughts. I keep hoping that one day I'll awake to "DARPA funds advanced algorithmic conflic resolution research" or "New DARPA challenge is to probe causes of aggression towards the US"....

      We have more way to watch and destroy each other than we can ever possibly use effectively (more than once).
  • better analogy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 )
    A bus in the sky? Seriously. Okay everyone erase that from your memory and pretend it said IBM Bladecenter in the sky. That would be way more accurate. If you take the bus analogy any further, you'd be paying to install really nice rims and a new motor and a sweet subwoofer and stereo system in a bus and then you're just an idiot and quite possibly a redneck if you do that.
    Btw I have a slightly different opinion. Satellites suck. Well at least data ones do. Weather and imagining and all that makes s
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      A bus in the sky?
      It's just a really big car.
    • I don't think they're using that word the way you think they're using that word. I believe they mean *data* bus, as in PCI. You get the satellite up there, and 'plug in' to the communications network which would provide orbit to ground communications, additional processing power or data storage.
  • Bad idea jeans (Score:5, Informative)

    by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:38AM (#22597828) Homepage
    there is no good reason for this to be a huge research priority (although arguably, it isn't huge). When I first read the summary, I thought that DARPA was funding a next generation version of Hughes Aerospace's 'modular' satellites system, where Hughes builds 1 bus and offer 1 of three payload configurations to customers.

    But I'm more confused as to the goals of this project. I read a few of the linked pdf's and true to form, the government request for grant applications were not enlightening. The best I can hash of it seems like this:

    DARPA wants to build and test satellites that are placed into orbit in a micro-constellation of sorts, communicating between various parts via wireless signals. Let's leave aside security and interference concerns, because they are--frankly--minor. My primary concerns would be duplication of elements. Assuming that they still have traditional roles for satellites, such as remote imaging and relay, payloads still need to be handled nicely. The camera for the remote sensing system needs to:

    1. Know where it is.
    2. Know where it is pointing.
    3. Point there without too much wobble.

    The first 2 can still be done with a distributed satellite--you just put the start tracker and the computational hardware on another cluster. The second requires that you keep the stabilizing hardware on the same bus as the payload. Beyond that, how will they manage stationkeeping? Each microsat would have to be fitted with jets or be replaced in a few years time.

    Can anyone fill me in on what I am missing here?
    • Robustness (Score:3, Interesting)

      by renoX ( 11677 )
      Have you really read the artiche/paper?

      There is a *really good reason* which is given in the article: defence against anti-satellite weapons.

      Much like 'Internet': a decentralised system is much more robust than a centralised one..
      • Re:Robustness (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Friday February 29, 2008 @05:16AM (#22598134) Homepage
        That strikes me as BS. DARPA has been working on ASAT and defenses against ASAT since before it was DARPA. We had to rename all of the ASAt vehicles when Clinton came to office so they didn't sound like purely cold war projects. To think that we have only now come up with this "big sky" approach to defending against ASAT is silly. ASAT is a fact of life when dealing with modern enemies. Hell, we used to worry about russians detonating nuclear weapons in their own satellites just to take ours down. How is a microconstellation going to fix that?

        and BTW, I read the article, I just don't feel the need to repeat their stated claim when arguing the negatives, thanks.

        Here's my point. In order to hold stationkeeping--in other words, if you give a shit about where your orbit is and how long you can maintain it, each piece of that micro-constellation needs fuel and thrusters. The biggest pieces are still going to be:

        solar Panels

        Each component is going to need to replicate those, introducing new chances for failure. On top of that, components and satellites are intricately power and heat balanced. Heat dissipation is very tighly controlled and often certain components are paired well with others in order to radiate heat away at a given rate so that the craft doesn't cook itself and that cyclic stresses don't become a problem for long serving craft. This means that each of those components needs to be engineered specifically where only one did before on top of duplicating hardware.

        Also, there are still critical components. There will only be one tranceiver (large). That's a critical component. There will be only one payload microsat. There will be (assuming wireless power transmission) only one power generating microsat. All of those are critical to operation. It isn't more secure and robust just because they say it is. Sheesh.

        Now instead of one computer to check for bugs and secure against radiation we need 8-10. instead of engineering one satellite we engineer 8-10. If the government wants to spend more money, then be my guest, because that's what this will do.
        • They're trading cost for risk. It's pretty much a law of the universe that you have to pay in order to reduce your risk (if you're not gaining something else by increasing risk, then you're a moron plain and simple). Although the extra engineering and replicated functionality are added costs, there clearly is someone at DARPA who believes the added costs are likely to be offset by corresponding reductions in risk. Of course, they're not 100% sure of this themselves, which is why part of the work is a study

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          As someone who worked on several satellites I can attest you are dead on in your analysis. Fuel, Solar Panels and Payload (Transmitters, CPUS, etc) are going to be important. The more capability the satellites need the more power they need and the bigger the panels and fuel tanks and thus the overall size and weight go up and with that the costs.

          The orbit is also key, you want them in a low orbit with the right inclination but not so low that atmospheric drag is significant. They also have to be line of si
    • Sounds like a knee-jerk reaction to demonstrated Chinese sat destruction capability. Although not stated in the summary as part of the goals, presumably a network of standard, modular and inter-connected sats would not only be cheaper, but also, if properly designed, more fault & attack tolerant. There's much concern in the military about how the armed forces are increasingly reliant on space-based systems, and their vulnerability to disruption / destruction.

      To your point, whether or not they'd be mor
  • FYI (Score:5, Informative)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:40AM (#22597836)
    Link to the original 7.2007 funding announcement WORD doc directly from DARPA... []

    Gotta' get going on that marine turtle study grant before they give that one away to someone looking to make soup...darn!
  • by n3tcat ( 664243 ) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:51AM (#22597882)
    So after reading this, I had the random thought of cluster networking and whatnot, and it made me wonder if the satellites would ever have any spare CPU cycles. If so, I wonder if they handle helping some of the @home projects (folding, seti, etc).
    • Most of the code on a sattelite has gone though extensive auditing and testing; even if a sattelite had the cycles to spare, its owners would probably rather buy a PS3 and run f@h on it than run even a remote risk of incurring problems on the sattelite.
      • Extensive auditing and testing cannot, however, find something that you have not anticipated. Sure, the code may run "as designed" as be free of bugs and mem. leaks, but if something comes up that was not thought of...
        • by Protonk ( 599901 )
          what the heck is this supposed to mean? I mean...duh. of course testing can't deal with unknown problems. But you hire people to figure that shit out. The aerospace industry is home to some of the most well tested software in the world (and hardware). Well tested and robust enough that failures occur VERY rarely and when they do they are usually pretty well explained. Don't include NASA's record here, but even if you did, extend it back to the start of unmanned spaceflight and you'll see it is pretty
    • Your calculator probably could run more cycles than a typical satellite. Radiation hardened equipment is slow.
  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Friday February 29, 2008 @03:59AM (#22597926)
    Linux monolithic kernel is obso....

  • sure...another Plug'n'Pray system....except this time it takes a little more than just 'pop the hood and replace the part' if things go pear-shaped :)
  • To solve a given tough computing problem, we have technologies that make it possible to build a complex software system to solve the problem by cobbling together appropriate software modules. A primary advantage of such an approach is that it leads to faster development. However, it rarely leads to an implementation that is efficient in terms of either size or performance. A system designed specifically to solve only the given problem and built carefully from the ground up can normally work much more eff
  • The Russians still have shortwave communications on their ships, because they have assumed since the 70's that the US will shoot down some or all of their space assets in the event of a war.

    The US hasn't done that, and the planned migration to drone attack aircraft is utterly dependent on satellite communication. When the Chinese decide to attack Taiwan or assert claims on the Spratley Islands, the first shot will probably be at US communications.
  • It's a great idea, I mean one missle can't shoot it all down...

    But even assuming very strong encryption, and some line of sight point to point networking and that it's hard to temper with something up that high.. the DOD can't secure the conmputer networks we have NOW.

    This is like putting the Crown Jewels in outer space, someone will find a way to get them...
  • Cool! I want mine to change into Frenzy!
  • As a pacifist I object to using military technology (defence? hah!), as it glorifies the purveyors of death and violence and gives a veneer of respectabilty to the military industrial complex.

    So I'll just stick with the plain old internet, thanks.
  • coupled with the recent success of a satellite refueling [] another satellite in space.
    Can see a satellite change its capability in space from one job function to another and get a boost in fuel to stay up there long term.
  • It's already done and it's called Hughes Spaceway [].

    What ever happened to NASA and DARPA building the virtual ground station (i.e. getting rid of ground stations)?

I came, I saw, I deleted all your files.