DARPA is Placing “Big Bets” on Space-Based Weapons Systems


DARPA sees a real possibility for spaced based conflict. So, it’s hoping to create breakthrough technology to dissuade U.S. adversaries who might consider attacking from space. 

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency assists national security with efforts in space. It focuses on making space a “real-time operational domain,” as DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar recently said.

“The questions we ask ourselves at DARPA about the space domain … is what would it take to make the space domain robust for everything that we need militarily and for intelligence, and what would it take to make space a real-time operational domain, which it’s not at all today,” the director said last week at the 4th annual Defense One Summit. Many nation-states now orbit the Earth. Conflict is a real possibility, believes Prabhakar.

She said a portfolio of DARPA space programs is needed. Technology allows the Agency to deploy news systems in potentially months.

“… in a time of war we imagine if we could go to space not in a month or next week but tomorrow, think about how that would completely change the calculus for an adversary that’s thinking about [using an antisatellite] weapon to take out one of our satellites,” she hypothesized. DARPA is in the progress of developing its Experimental Spaceplane XS-1.

“It’s a reusable first stage that’s designed to be able to put 3,000 or 5,000 pounds into low earth orbit … at a very low-cost point — a few million dollars — but very significantly the objective on the DARPA program is by the end of the program to fly that spacecraft 10 times in 10 days,” Prabhakar said, “something that’s inconceivable with any of the spacecraft we have today.” The agency is also working on GEO robotics.

“We’re doing some amazing work with geo[synchronous]-robotics and rethinking [geostationary Earth orbit]-architectures once you have an asset that would allow you to extend the life or do inspection or simple repairs at GEO, which is something you can’t do today,” Pamela Melroy, deputy director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office and a former astronaut, said last year during a DARPA forum.

DARPA’s Phoenix program seeks to develop technologies to make it possible to inspect and robotically service cooperative space systems in GEO. At the Defense One Summit, Prabhakar discussed what she called “big bets” that DARPA places in breakthrough technologies.

“I think space, a completely new architecture for space that makes it robust, resilient and real-time, that would be a revolution,” she said, “and I think it’s something that could happen with some of the bets that we’re placing.”

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Justin O'Connell is the founder of financial technology focused CryptographicAsset.com. Justin organized the launch of the largest Bitcoin ATM hardware and software provider in the world at the historical Hotel del Coronado in southern California. His works appear in the U.S.'s third largest weekly, the San Diego Reader, VICE and elsewhere.