DARPA’s R3D2: Big Company Makes Small Sat Fast

May 8, 2019

Breaking Defense – SATELLITE 2019: Northrop Grumman’s R3D2 experimental DARPA satellite hasunfurled its cutting-edge antenna and successfully gone through initialization – but it’s the rapid prototyping that the company’s team leader Scott Stapp is excited about.

“Most of the defense industry is not known for being super fast” or for taking risks, he told me in an interview today. “We got it to orbit super fast, and we took very high risks.”

DARPA’s goal for the R3D2 (Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration) was to demonstrate a new type of light-weight, small-volume antenna to help validate concepts for a resilient sensor and data transport layer in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – a capability being pursed by the Missile Defense Agency, the Air Force and the Space Development Agency (SDA) for a variety of missions including missile defense and space-based Internet communications. It was also to demonstrate rapid development to launch capability by relying on commercial acquisition practices, with the program taking slightly more than 18 months from contract to launch (the latter was delayed about a month due to the government shutdown earlier this year.)

“The R3D2 mission has been successful thus far, both in demonstration of rapid acquisition for small satellite and launch capabilities, as well as successful deployment of the high compaction ratio antenna,” a DARPA spokesperson told me today.

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