Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC) Technology Demonstration
APL is leading solutions for the Space Force with the DARC technology demonstrator program. Using a minimum of just three ground-based antenna sites, spaced at mid-latitudes around the world, the government plans to operationalize the ability to detect, track, and maintain awareness of satellites in, to, and through geosynchronous orbit.
The test and demonstration efforts reduced the technical risk and validated the system design before the implementation of an operational radar system. With the technology demonstrations complete, the Space Force has moved to procure a full system from industry incorporating the lessons learned from APL’s design—giving the nation a constant capability to track potential threats to missile warning, communications, and other national security satellites.
Spacebased Kill Assessment (SKA)
APL developed and tested the sensors for the Missile Defense Agency’s SKA system, currently on orbit and executing planned test events. The SKA system is a network of small sensors hosted on commercial satellites. The individual sensors house three infrared detectors used to collect the energy signature of the impact between a threat ballistic missile and an interceptor of the Ballistic Missile Defense System.
Space Security and Defense
APL provides expertise to the Space Security and Defense program, a joint Department of Defense/Office of the Director of National Intelligence organization focused on creating a more resilient and enduring national security space capability. The program’s projects and activities center on identifying solutions to current space-protection needs with a practical approach to balancing near-term results with long-term acquisition, architecture, and strategic objectives.
CubeSat Signal Preprocessor Assessment and Test (CAT)
APL has successfully established communications with two miniaturized satellites, or CubeSats, as part of a Lab-led flight demonstration known as CAT. Each spacecraft carried an industry-provided radio frequency payload and had two identical 3U (nanosatellite) configuration CubeSats with two deployed solar panels. The satellites were launched from the International Space Station in 2019. Capitalizing on APL’s successful small-satellite Multimission Bus Demonstration, the Laboratory conducted preliminary systems engineering activities and subsystem analysis, and developed requirements for this upcoming test.
Space Weather Sensors
Knowing the distribution and direction of energetic charged particles along a spacecraft’s trajectory is key to situational and satellite-health awareness, yet many missions resist flying particle sensors because the instruments can be heavy and expensive. APL is developing a small, highly capable charged-particle sensor to deliver data that can help Air Force operators assess whether space weather conditions play a role in spacecraft anomalies. Building on the Laboratory’s heritage of developing particle instruments for NASA missions, APL produced a concept for a sensor that meets or exceeds Air Force requirements.