DARPA selects SwRI K-band space crosslink radio for flight development under System F6 program


SAN ANTONIO, 7 Jan. 2013. U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials sought a flight low-rate crosslink wireless communications platform for the System F6 program. They found their solution at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.

The System F6 program will validate a new space mission concept in which a cluster of small, wirelessly connected spacecraft replaces the typical single spacecraft carrying numerous instruments and payloads. The “fractionated” architecture is expected to enhance survivability, responsiveness, and adaptability compared to traditional monolithic spacecraft.

The SwRI K-band radio is integral to the open-source F6 Developers Kit (FDK), which allows any spacecraft to participate in an F6-enabled cluster.

SwRI’s K-band wireless crosslink radio provides a continuously active communications channel with guaranteed availability and latency. Its Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) protocol is well suited for a variety of mission communications needs, says a spokesperson. The K-band radio’s core architecture accommodates a continuous data link among the cluster members and supports inclusion of third-party, point-to-point, high-rate data links.

The SwRI-developed F6 Wireless Inter-Module Communications System (F6WICS) protocol incorporates a data link layer ready for integration with higher-level network protocols to enable distributed computing with unique mechanisms for maximizing bandwidth allocations.

“System F6 is truly a game-changing paradigm for space missions that has broad applicability across not only national security programs, but also traditional scientific missions in which mission durability, reconfigurability, distributed measurements, and expandability are enabling technologies,” says Dr. Mark Tapley, a staff engineer in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division and principal investigator for the wireless system

Officials expect the program to culminate in an on-orbit demonstration in 2015-2016.


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