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Satnews Daily
January 27th, 2019

DARPA Prototype Reflectarray Antenna Offers High Performance in a Small Package

DARPA’s Radio Frequency Risk Reduction Deployment Demonstration (R3D2) is set for launch in late February to space-qualify a new type of membrane reflectarray antenna.

The antenna, made of a tissue-thin Kapton membrane, packs tightly for stowage during launch and then will deploy to its full size of 2.25 meters in diameter once it reaches LEO. R3D2 will monitor antenna deployment dynamics, survivability and radio frequency (RF) characteristics of a membrane antenna in LEO. The antenna could enable multiple missions that currently require large satellites, to include high data rate communications to disadvantaged users on the ground.

MMA Design successfully completes deployment testing of its innovative high-compaction ratio reflectarray antenna in its Louisville, Colorado facilities. Photo is courtesy of MMA Design.

A successful demonstration also will help prove out a smaller, faster-to-launch and lower cost capability, allowing the Department of Defense (DoD), as well as other users, to make the most of the new commercial market for small, inexpensive launch vehicles. The satellite design, development, and launch took approximately 18 months.

The launch will occur on a Rocket Lab USA Electron rocket from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor and integrated the 150 kg. satellite; MMA Design designed and built the antenna. Trident Systems designed and built R3D2’s software-defined radio, while Blue Canyon Technologies provided the spacecraft bus.

Rocket Lab will host a webcast and provide coverage of the launch via a live stream at this direct link:

Executive Comment

Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said the Department of Defense has prioritized rapid acquisition of small satellite and launch capabilities. By relying on commercial acquisition practices, DARPA streamlined the R3D2 mission from conception through launch services acquisition. This mission could help validate emerging concepts for a resilient sensor and data transport layer in LEO — a capability that does not exist today, but one which could revolutionize global communications by laying the groundwork for a space-based internet.