Recently in the DARPA Category

Imaging of Earth from satellites in space has vastly improved in recent years. But the opposite challenge--using Earth-based systems to find, track and provide detailed characterization of satellites and other objects in high orbits--has frustrated engineers even as the need for space domain awareness has grown.

As satellites become more common, they face growing risk of colliding with space debris and even each other.


As the need for higher-resolution orbital imagery expands, glass mirrors are fast approaching the point where they will be too large, heavy and costly for even the largest of today's rockets to carry to orbit.

Inserting new capabilities into a satellite is no simple task. Doing so as that satellite hurdles through space 22,000 miles above the Earth is a bit more challenging still. DARPA's Phoenix program, which hopes to repurpose retired satellites while they remain in orbit, seeks to fundamentally change how space systems could be designed here on earth and then sustained once in space.

DARPA's SeeMe program aims to give mobile, US warfighters overseas access to on-demand, space-based tactical information in remote and beyond-line-of-sight conditions. If successful, SeeMe will provide timely imagery to warfighters of their immediate surroundings via handheld devices.

DARPA's Smallsat Imaging Constellation

"Doubts still hang over the military utility of small satellites, holding back progress on low-cost, quick-reaction systems that could be launched at short notice to fill gaps in space coverage. To prove their viability, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has begun a program to demonstrate that small satellites produced and launched on demand can provide imagery on request directly to individual soldiers. Darpa's goal is to show that a constellation of 24 satellites, each weighing less than 100 lb., can be launched into low Earth orbit (LEO) at a fraction of the cost of acquiring additional unmanned aircraft to provide the same imagery. Raytheon has received the first contract under the Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program. The $1.5 million contract is for the nine-month first phase to design a small imaging satellite. Darpa says other contracts will be awarded as well. Darpa's Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (Alasa) program is developing the booster to launch the SeeMe satellites quickly and affordably. Alasa is to be air-launched at short notice from a tactical fighter or business jet with minimal modification to the aircraft." More at Aviation Week

"No one could accuse the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of lacking imagination. But to rethink the entire design, development and manufacturing process used by aerospace for decades is ambitious, even for the agency that helped bring us GPS, the Internet and stealth. Under the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) program, Darpa is working to combine model-based design, virtual collaborative engineering and foundry-style manufacturing into an end-to-end process that cuts development timescales by a factor of five, eliminating the design-build-test-redesign cycle that is driving costs and delays. "It's safe to say that the direction we have been going in military acquisitions is not a sustainable path," says Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, Darpa AVM program manager. "We simply can't continue to spend more and get less for the money we spend." More at Aviation Week

"NASA estimates more than 500,000 pieces of hazardous space debris orbit the earth, threatening satellites that support peacekeeping and combat missions. These objects include spent rocket stages, defunct satellites and fragments from other spacecraft that are the result of erosion, explosion and collision. A collision between one of these small pieces of debris and a satellite could release more than 20,000 times the energy of a head-on automobile collision at 65 mph. To help address the threat, DARPA created SpaceView, a space debris tracking project that provides amateur astronomers with the means to make a difference. Amateur astronomers will have their first opportunity to sign up in person for the program at the Arizona Science and Astronomy Expo in Tucson, November 10-11, 2012." More

DARPA's Plans To Reuse Satellites

DARPA Opens International Dialog on Satellite Servicing

"Current satellites are not designed to be serviced in space. When a communication satellite in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) fails 36,000 kilometers above the earth, typically, it is moved into a "graveyard" orbit where it remains indefinitely. Many of the satellites which are obsolete or have failed still have usable antennas, solar arrays and other components which are expected to last much longer than the life of the satellite, but currently there is no way to re-use them."

DARPA's Robotics Prize

DARPA Seeks Robot Enthusiasts (and you) To Face Off for $2 million Prize

"DARPA's Robotics Challenge will launch in October 2012. Teams are sought to compete in challenges involving staged disaster-response scenarios in which robots will have to successfully navigate a series of physical tasks corresponding to anticipated, real-world disaster-response requirements. Robots played a supporting role in mitigating fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan, and are used by U.S. military forces as assistants for servicemembers in diffusing improvised explosive devices. True innovation in robotics technology could result in much more effective robots that could better intervene in high-risk situations and thus save human lives and help contain the impact of natural and man-made disasters."

DARPA Has A Program Called "Avatar"

Keith's note: According to io9: "In [DARPA's] $2.8 billion budget for 2013, unveiled on Monday, they've allotted $7 million for a project titled "Avatar." The project's ultimate goal, not surprisingly, sounds a lot like the plot of the same-named (but much more expensive) flick. According the agency, "the Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier's surrogate." These robots should be smart and agile enough to do the dirty work of war, Darpa notes. That includes the "room clearing, sentry control [and] combat casualty recovery." And all at the bidding of their human partner."

Imagine if the same technology could be used such that astronauts coudl inhabit spacecraft that could also walk across a planetary surface. There are many places where the terrain could not be accessed by use of rovers.

NASA/MIT/DARPA Robotic Challenge

NASA Joins MIT and DARPA for Out-of-This-World Student Robotic Challenge

"NASA will join the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and high school student teams from the U.S. and abroad for the third annual Zero Robotics SPHERES Challenge on Monday, Jan. 23. The event will take place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., and be broadcast live on NASA Television from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST."

DARPA Solicitation: Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA)

"The goal of ALASA is to develop a significantly less expensive approach for launching small satellites routinely, with a goal of at least threefold reduction in costs compared to current military and US commercial launch costs. ALASA seeks to develop and employ radical advances in launch systems, to include the development of a complete launch vehicle requiring no recurring maintenance or support, and no specific integration to prepare for launch."

Innovators Sought for DARPA Satellite Servicing Program, DARPA

"More than $300 billion worth of satellites are estimated to be in the geosynchronous orbit (GEO--22,000 miles above the earth). Many of these satellites have been retired due to normal end of useful life, obsolescence or failure; yet many still have valuable components, such as antennas, that could last much longer than the life of the satellite. When satellites in GEO "retire," they are put into a GEO disposal or "graveyard" orbit. DARPA's Phoenix program seeks to develop technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in GEO and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost."

Crowdsourcing UAV Designs

Defense Department looks to crowd-source new drone innovations, Washington Post

"Called UAVForge, the competition is open to individuals, such as scientists, engineers or aircraft hobbyists, as well as to teams of contestants. The task is to come up with ideas for a small, silent aircraft that could be controlled from two miles away and monitor people or cars in an urban area for up to two hours while sending back still photos or video."


Keith's note: DARPA is hosting a conference for its 100 Year Starship project between 30 September - 2 October in Orlando. The agenda is interesting and ecclectic. We'll be onsite at the conference covering this event via live blogging here at You can also follow via Twitter at @NASAhackSpace or see Tweets from other participants on Twitter via the hashtag #100yss.

The transcript is posted below.

Crowdsourcing Molecular Genetics Problems

Gamers solve molecular puzzle that baffled scientists, MSNBC

"Video-game players have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years, and those scientists say the accomplishment could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS and other diseases. The feat, which was accomplished using a collaborative online game called Foldit, is also one giant leap for citizen science — a burgeoning field that enlists Internet users to look for alien planets, decipher ancient texts and do other scientific tasks that sheer computer power can't accomplish as easily."

Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players, Nature Sturctural & Molecular Biology


Think about this: Several Space Shuttle Middeck experiments used gene chips to see which genes were turned on and off during exposure to microgravity. These experiments are rather straightforward to do and can be done on the ISS. Why not take this data and put it online in a fashion similar Foldit and allow crowdsourced assistance to look into what these gene changes mean and how tissues and organisms respond? FYI DARPA, NSF, and Microsoft supported this Foldit research project.

DARPA Eyes Cubesats - Lots of Them

Cubesats Tapped For Orbital Networks, Aviation Week

"If scientists at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) get their way, in a few years there may be networked clusters of dozens or even hundreds of small, cheap, easily replaceable satellites working together in place of the large, expensive and difficult-to-replace birds now in orbit."

The 100 Year StarshipTM (100YSSTM) is a project seeded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with NASA Ames Research Center as executing agent, to develop a viable and sustainable non-governmental organization for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel viable. The goal is to develop an investment vehicle--with the patronage and guidance of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and technology visionaries--which provides the stability for sustained investment over a century-long time horizon, concomitant with the agility to respond to the accelerating pace of technological, social, and other change. More

What could possibly make an already super cool robotics competition even better? The zero-gravity environment of space! NASA and DARPA, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, TopCoder, and Aurora Flight Sciences, recently announced the Zero Robotics competition, an event open to all high schools in the United States that form a team and complete the application process. The Zero Robotics competition is a student software competition that takes the idea of a robotics competition to new heights--literally. The robots are basketball-sized satellites called SPHERES, and they look like something straight out of Star Wars. The competition is kicked off by a challenging problem conjured up by DARPA and NASA. After multiple rounds of simulation and ground competition, a final tournament will be held onboard the International Space Station! The 27 finalists will have their robotic programs run by an astronaut in the microgravity environment of space. More at OSTP

Pentagon dreams of interstellar travel, AP

"This month 150 competitors answered the federal government's initial call for private sector cosmic ideas. Officials say some big names are among those interested. The plan is to make interstellar travel possible in about a century."

Could You Head Up DARPA's 100-Year Starship Program?, Universe Today

"Just like all the technology development that DARPA has done in the past which required only small initial investments but ultimately lead to things, such as the internet and GPS technology -- as well as NASA's investment in space travel which has spawned items we use every day here on Earth -- they believe a small investment now could lead to a big payoff for everyone in the future."

Let's Reconstitute Humans From Genomes Launched Into Space! and Other Ambitious Proposals for Galactic Colonization, Popular Science

"We have no idea what interstellar travel might look like in 100 years, of course -- just as Jules Verne could never have conceived of the technology required to really send humans to the moon when he wrote about it in 1865. But if we start now, we can make it happen, according to David Neyland, who directs DARPA's Tactical Technology Office."

DARPA, NASA seek ideas for starship travel, Computer World

"One hundred years is a pretty good period of time to inspire research to go out and tackle problems that will have you asking questions you didn't even know to ask at the beginning," said David Neyland, director of the Tactical Technology Office for DARPA, today. "The investment must have a long-term goal and ancillary benefits to the government and NASA."

Making Star Trek Reality: NASA Wants Ideas, Information Week

"This won't just be another space technology conference--we're hoping that ethicists, lawyers, science fiction writers, technologists, and others, will participate in the dialog to make sure we're thinking about all the aspects of interstellar flight," said David Neyland, director of DARPA's tactical technology office, in a statement. "This is a great opportunity for people with interesting ideas to be heard, which we believe will spur further thought, dreaming, and innovation."

Nerds -- Darpa Wants Your Advice on Interstellar Flight, Wired

"But technology isn't sufficient for an effort as epochal as reaching other galaxies. That's why they're holding an open symposium on the implications of interstellar travel in Orlando come September. And they want you to submit your thoughts."

NASA, DARPA want public input for futuristic space exploration ideas

"DARPA and NASA Ames Research Center today said they are soliciting abstracts, papers, topics and members for discussion panels, to be part of the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium to be held in Orlando, Fla., from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2."

DARPA Encourages Individuals and Organizations to Look to the Stars - Issues Call for Papers for 100 Year Starship Study Public Symposium

"A century can fundamentally change our understanding of our universe and reality. Man's desire to explore space and achieve the seemingly impossible is at the center of the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA Ames Research Center (serving as execution agent), are working together to convene thought leaders dealing with the practical and fantastic issues man needs to address to achieve interstellar flight one hundred years from now."

Keith's note: Cool stuff. Yet NASA PAO makes zero mention of this event. I asked DARPA why this is the case in a telecon today. They said that this is because they have the lead on this and that NASA is doing the right thing by referring all inquiries to DARPA. I then asked if NASA will be allowed - encouraged - to openly participate in the conference that DARPA is holding in Orlando this Fall. DARPA said that NASA would be sending speakers, etc. DARPA is supposed to be posting a link to the proceedings of a workshop that they held with NASA a few months ago. When I asked if NASA would be asked to post a link to this report, DARPA did not know.

This is all rather baffling. The intent of this project is to spur imagination and new technologies such as life support, energy production etc. The DARPA folks are really good at this sort of thing and are being very inclusive. The cost is barely a blip on people's radar screens. This thing is bursting at the seams with potential spinoffs - and is the sort blue sky, what-if activity that you'd expect - hope - that a forward-thinking space agency would engage in - yet NASA HQ is going out of its way to ignore it. Go figure.

DARPA is seeking ideas for an organization, business model and approach appropriate for a self-sustaining investment vehicle in support of the 100 Year StarshipTM Study. The 100 Year StarshipTM Study is a project seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible. The genesis of this study is to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general population to consider "why not" and to encourage them to tackle whole new classes of research and development related to all the issues surrounding long duration, long distance spaceflight. DARPA contends that the useful, unanticipated consequences of such research will have benefit to the Department of Defense and to NASA, and well as the private and commercial sector.