System F6 (Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft United by Information Exchange) seeks to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of a satellite architecture wherein the functionality of a traditional “monolithic” spacecraft is delivered by a cluster of wirelessly-interconnected modules capable of sharing their resources and using resources found elsewhere in the cluster.
System F6 seeks to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of a satellite architecture wherein the functionality of a traditional “monolithic” spacecraft is delivered by a cluster of wirelessly-interconnected modules capable of sharing their resources and utilizing resources found elsewhere in the cluster. Such architecture enhances the adaptability and survivability of space systems, while shortening development timelines and reducing the barrier-to-entry for participation in the national security space industry.
The program is predicated on the development of open interface standards—from the physical wireless link layer through the network protocol stack, including the real-time resource sharing middleware and cluster flight logic—to enable the emergence of a space “global commons” which would enhance the mutual security posture of all participants through interdependence. A key program goal is the industry-wide promulgation of these open interface standards for the sustainment and development of future fractionated systems and low-cost commercial hardware for the sustained development of future fractionated systems beyond the System F6 demonstration.
The program will culminate with an on-orbit demonstration in 2015 of the key functional attributes of fractionated architectures. The technology objectives and program plan are driven by a small set of functional on-orbit demonstrations. Program success will be measured by the successful completion of these demonstrations, designed to prove the highest-risk elements of the architecture to potential transition partners and early adopters. The demonstrations will occur in low earth orbit (LEO), and will be approximately six months in duration. The functional demos are as follows:
- Capability for semi-autonomous long-duration maintenance of a cluster and cluster network, and the addition and removal of spacecraft modules to/from the cluster and cluster network
- Capability to securely share resources across the cluster network with real time guarantees and among payloads or users in multiple security domains
- Capability to autonomously reconfigure the cluster to retain safety- and mission-critical functionality in the face of network degradation or component failures
- Capability to perform a semi-autonomous defensive cluster scatter and re-gather maneuver to rapidly evade a debris-like threat
The general philosophy that underlies the technical approach and structure of the System F6 program is to arrive at the on-orbit functional demonstrations enumerated above through a disaggregated series of efforts.
Two key artifacts will be developed in the course of the program. The first is the F6 Developer’s Kit (FDK), which is a set of open source interface standards, protocols, behaviors, and reference implementations thereof, necessary for any party, without any contractual relationship to any System F6 performer, to develop a new module that can fully participate in a fractionated cluster. The second is the F6 Technology Package (F6TP), which is a hardware instantiation of the wireless connectivity, packet-switched routing, and encryption capable of hosting the protocol stack and resource-sharing and cluster flight software needed to enable an existing spacecraft bus to fully participate in a fractionated cluster. In essence, the F6TP is a hardware instantiation of the FDK