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By Brian Robinson

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DARPA satellite program seeks ‘billions and billions’ of inputs

OK, billions is my exaggeration (and with apologies to the late, great Carl Sagan), but you’d be forgiven for thinking that is the intention of the latest RFI from the boffins at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

They are looking for suggestions for new algorithms that can be used to control individual satellites that would act in unison to perform certain jobs. The initial target is experimental satellites that would operate inside the International Space Station.

Here’s the key graph:

“Specifically, DARPA seeks an open-innovation approach to the development of algorithms for the control of the Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) that operate inside the International Space Station. Ideally, participation in the innovation process would be open to groups numbering in the hundreds, to thousands, to possibly millions of people worldwide.”

That is a BIG open-source commitment. Typically, you would expect thousands of people to contribute on such a project, but millions? Worldwide? DARPA has titled its RFI “Crowd Sourcing Algorithms for Spacecraft Cluster Control,” but I’d say that’s taking even the new age term a little far.

However, DARPA wouldn’t be DARPA if it didn’t stretch the limits. It’s also looking to spread this over as wide an age-range as possible, apparently even down to schoolkids, as part of a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics program component.

As for as the military goal of this, DARPA has long been involved in the possible use of swarm technology to use hosts of miniature satellites. It’s latest program is titled the Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft United by Information Exchange (System F6), for which it let the latest contract in December.

And that’s probably enough of the mad scientist -- and acronym-heavy -- stuff for a while.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Jan 21, 2010 at 12:19 PM

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