Military Embedded Systems

DARPA's mini-antenna will test emerging sensor and satellite concepts in LEO


January 25, 2019

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

DARPA's mini-antenna will test emerging sensor and satellite concepts in LEO
Photo: DARPA/MMA Design

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is readying for a late-February 2019 launch of a prototype antenna it calls the Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2); the prototype is intended to space-qualify a new type of membrane reflectarray antenna. The antenna, made of an extremely thin Kapton membrane, is packed tightly stowed for launch and then deploys to its full size of 2.25 meters in diameter once it reaches low Earth orbit (LEO).

R3D2 -- tasked with monitoring antenna deployment dynamics, survivability, and radio frequency (RF) characteristics of a membrane antenna in low-Earth orbit -- is aimed at enabling multiple missions that currently require large satellites, to include high-data-rate communications to disadvantaged users on the ground. Successful demonstration of the prototype will also help to boost a smaller, faster-to-launch, and lower-cost capability, allowing the Department of Defense (DoD) and other users to take advantage of the new commercial market for small, inexpensive launch vehicles. Satellite design, development, and launch for R3D2 will take approximately 18 months.

“The Department of Defense has prioritized rapid acquisition of small satellite and launch capabilities. By relying on commercial acquisition practices, DARPA streamlined the R3D2 mission from conception through launch services acquisition,” said Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “This mission could help validate emerging concepts for a resilient sensor and data transport layer in low Earth orbit – a capability that does not exist today, but one which could revolutionize global communications by laying the groundwork for a space-based internet.”

The launch will take place on a Rocket Lab USA Electron rocket from Rocket Labs launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand. The prime contractor for the launch is Northrop Grumman, which integrated the 150 kg (330.7 pound) satellite. MMA Design designed and built the antenna, Trident Systems designed and built R3D2’s software-defined radio, and Blue Canyon Technologies provided the spacecraft bus.


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U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

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