DARPA announced that it has awarded a one-year, $75 million contract to Orbital Sciences Corporation for the second phase of the System F6 fractionated spacecraft demonstrator program. During this time, Orbital’s industry team will mature its fractionated satellite design up through a critical design review, along with completing development of the majority of its software. The agency intends to conduct an on-orbit demonstration of this fractionated space architecture in 2013 to show the value of operating a cluster of separate, small free-flying spacecraft modules as a much larger “virtual” satellite. This approach could spawn a new design paradigm that moves away from large monolithic satellites. In the process, it could usher in “an era of creativity, adaptability, and economically resilient satellite systems,” said David Neyland, DARPA’s tactical technology office director. (For more on System F6, read Game Changers from the September issue of Air Force Magazine.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.