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The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded teams led by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin contracts to compete for the first development phase of a wirelessly interconnected satellite.

Phase 1 of the Future, Flexible, Fast, Fractionated, Free-Flying, Spacecraft United by Information Exchange (F6) programme is a 12-month study of ways to break up a typical monolithic satellite into smaller, individually launched modules.

The programme hopes to replace the traditional satellite with a cluster of wirelessly interconnected spacecraft modules that fly in approximately the same orbit.

Each module will contribute a unique capability such as command and data handling, guidance and navigation and payload functions.

At the same time, virtual and distributed satellite components do not interfere with each other, do not have to be developed on the same schedule and can be replaced more cost effectively.

Northrop Grumman’s Space Technology division is leading a team comprised of Swales Aerospace, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, L3Comm, BAE Systems, Payload Systems, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University.

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Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ team is made up of Colbaugh & Heinsheimer, Aurora Flight Science and Vanderbuilt University.

By Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh