19 May 2022
Low-Earth orbit demonstration last month supports U.S. National Defense Space Architecture.CACI International has announced that it has successfully demonstrated “space-to-space optical communications links in low earth orbit” with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Space Development Agency – as part of the Mandrake II program.
CACI International is a photonics design services, free-space optics, and lidar sensing solutions company.
Mandrake II is a joint risk-reduction program with DARPA, SDA and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV) to evaluate the pointing, acquisition, and tracking algorithms that allow for optical communication terminals to establish high-speed communication links in the upcoming Blackjack and SDA Transport and Tracking Layer constellations.
This successful test, completed using CACI’s CrossBeam free-space optical terminals, is the first step in establishing more secure, space-based communications networks for defense agencies using more powerful, efficient technology that can transmit more data, faster.
In December 2021, CACI acquired California-based SA Photonics to address a broader market spanning high-end manned flight programs to the proliferated LEO market. The combined companies offer advanced photonics engineering and manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. with three major manufacturing facilities in California, Florida, and New Jersey.
Issue of national security
John Mengucci, CACI President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “Our national security depends on advanced, secure technology that enables modernized networks and enhanced intelligence systems for our warfighters using small satellites to operate at the speed of relevance.
Through the acquisition of SA Photonics, our joint technology and manufacturing capabilities have enabled this successful milestone. In partnership with our mission customers, we are on the path to supporting the contested space domain with faster, more secure satellites.
The Optical InterSatellite Links were established using CrossBeam free-space optical terminals currently on orbit, developed by SA Photonics, with satellites that are specifically aimed at demonstrating and supporting a communication capability for the Department of Defense’s proliferated LEO National Defense Space Architecture.
The CrossBeam OISLs on Mandrake II successfully established an optical link during a 40+ minute test on April 14, 2022. The link demonstrated closed loop tracking and data transfer over a 100+ km link distance, with more than 200 gigabits of data transmitted and received. The technology provides satellite crosslinks and bi-directional satellite-to-earth links via low-complexity systems.
“Working with our partners on this industry milestone, we are proud to support the customer mission with this proliferated LEO class of low SWaP-C optical communication terminal,” said CACI SA Photonics Chief Operating Officer Mustafa Veziroglu.
“Building on the success of the Mandrake II program, the highly-manufacturable second-generation CrossBeam optical terminal is now ready to move into volume production in our expanded Los Gatos, California campus and new manufacturing facility in Orlando,” he said.