DARPA explores research for under sea and in space
As part of DARPA’s undersea research, its Manta Ray Program aims to demonstrate critical technologies for a new class of long-duration, long-range, payload-capable unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). UUVs that operate for extended durations without the need for onsite human logistics support or maintenance offer the potential for persistent operations during longer-term deployments.
The agency has selected three companies to focus on development of an integrated solution for Manta Ray technology and operational areas:
- Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories
- Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation
- Navatek, LLC
A fourth company, Metron, Inc., will work toward critical technology and solutions specific to the field of undersea energy harvesting techniques at depths necessary for successful operations.
“The Manta Ray program aims to increase at-sea operational capacity and capabilities for the combatant commander while minimizing disruptions to current operations by remaining independent of crewed vessels and ports once deployed,” said CDR Kyle Woerner, the Manta Ray Program Manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “If successful, this new class of UUVs would allow operational flexibility and relief of workload for both traditional host ships and servicing ports.”
The program plans to advance key technologies that will benefit future UUV designs, including, but not limited to new energy management and energy harvesting techniques at operationally relevant depths; low-power, high-efficiency propulsion; and new approaches to mitigate biofouling, corrosion, and other material degradation for long-duration missions. The program also seeks process improvements, including mission management approaches for extended durations while accounting for dynamic maritime environments; unique methods for leveraging existing maritime datasets and new maritime parameters for high-efficiency navigation; and new low-power means of underwater detection and classification of hazards.
Manta Ray is targeting three phases of development, culminating with a fully integrated demonstration vehicle completing an underwater mission in a dynamic, open-ocean environment.
To develop and deploy advanced robotic capabilities in space, DARPA has signed an "Other Transactions for Prototypes" agreement with Space Logistics, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation, as its commercial partner for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.
The RSGS program’s objective is to create a dexterous robotic operational capability in geosynchronous orbit that can extend satellite life spans, enhance resilience, and improve reliability for current U.S. space infrastructure. The first step of the program is the development of a dexterous robotic servicer, which a commercial enterprise will then operate.
“DARPA remains committed to a commercial partnership for the execution of the RSGS mission,” said Dr. Michael Leahy, Director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Building upon the successes of the DARPA Orbital Express mission and the recent successful docking of Space Logistics’ Mission Extension Vehicle-1, the agency seeks to bring dexterous on-orbit servicing to spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), and to establish that inspection, repair, life extension, and improvement of our valuable GEO assets can be made possible and even routine.”
The agency funds the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to integrate the flight robotic payload elements, including the robotic manipulator arms, a variety of interchangeable tools, cameras and sensors, and the software and avionics to operate the payload elements. The NRL has more than 15 years’ experience in space robotics, focusing on control algorithms, system architectures, and robot laboratory testing facilities.
“The RSGS program has made steady progress since initiation in 2016,” said Joseph Parrish, Program Manager for RSGS in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “The completion of the Payload Critical Design Review in summer 2019 and the delivery of key fight hardware items such as the first manipulator arm keeps us on course for launch, targeted in 2023. RSGS would be the first concrete step toward a transformed space architecture with revolutionary capabilities.”
The agency’s selection of Space Logistics allows the RSGS mission to proceed to spacecraft development, launch, and orbital operations. Under the agreement, the agency says it will provide the first-of-its-kind dexterous robotic payload. Space Logistics will provide the spacecraft bus, based upon technologies from its Mission Extension Vehicle line. It will also integrate the resulting robotic servicing spacecraft with the launch vehicle and provide the launch, as well as the mission operations center and staff for the full mission duration. After a checkout and demonstration period, the company will offer commercial servicing to both government and commercial client spacecraft. DARPA and Space Logistics will implement the agreement in two phases. The first is a six-month period to assess the joint program interfaces and business case, and the second is the execution of the flight program through launch and operations.
For more information, visit www.darpa.mil.