WASHINGTON — Greg Cooperman, a program manager in the Office of Strategic Technology at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, worries that new innovations from the commercial space industry may not have customers in the U.S. military.
Cooperman said the main reason for this SpaceNewsDiscussions about next-generation technologies, especially in the space sector, can quickly veer into classified territory, and many commercial businesses developing these technologies lack security clearances.
For example, the industrial sector is developing compact satellite antennas, he said. Most of the leading edge technology comes from businesses and startups that never feel dodgy.
“Innovators who are skilled at seeing the problems and developing smart solutions look from the outside in,” he said.
Cooperman, who has worked on classified defense programs for more than 15 years, wants to attract more space businesses to work with DARPA. He currently oversees a program that seeks to develop low-cost optical satellite terminals and a separate project that requires innovation in space sensors for low Earth orbit.
Satellite antennas — including design, materials and manufacturing techniques — are a key area for DARPA that can increase performance with less weight and cost, he said. But to really say what the problem is, I need to have a class-level discussion.
In conversations with people in the industry, Cooperman found that many inventors developing technologies of interest to DARPA lack certification. “It happened so many times that I was like, ‘This is ridiculous.'”
In an effort to address this problem, Cooperman’s office launched an initiative called Bridges to help companies obtain security clearances to work on defense contracts. “We want to bring creators to a place where we can start talking to them,” he said.
Bridges is short for “Bringing innovation to defense and government systems.”
Across national security agencies, he said, “There’s a huge recognition that we need to work with small businesses. But the piece that no one went to was the clearance piece.”
Bridges is trying to “solve the valley of death and bring the public from the commercial side to pure discourse.”
White papers on next-generation satellite antennas are due on June 9. Cooperman said that DARPA selects the most promising concepts and helps selected bidders to work with the agency and potential military customers.
DARPA will form a consortium to help companies eligible to compete for U.S. defense contracts apply for approvals needed to work on distributed programs known as DD Form 254. The agency works with MITER Corp, a federally funded non-profit consortium. Members have access to assigned office space, computers, and telephones at locations in Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.
“We’re going to invite proposals from companies by topic,” Cooperman said.
Future topics beyond space
Satellite antenna designs were chosen as the first topic because this area is “seeing a next-generation technology transition that hasn’t been tapped into in the defense market.”
Of particular interest are the next generation antennas for communication with low earth orbit satellites. “If you think you’re going beyond the current state of the art, we want to hear from you,” Cooperman said.
DARPA, for example, wants to attract companies working on ultra-thin metamaterial antenna arrays, Cooperman said. The commercial industry has invested in this technology, which has a wide range of applications for satellite communications.
“I am very impressed with the commercial developments in metamaterial antenna arrays,” said Cooperman.
Metamaterials are materials designed to have properties not found in naturally occurring materials. Miniaturized antennas that are smaller, lighter and perform better will increase performance, Cooperman said. “They offer the opportunity to be 10 to 100 times cheaper and 10 to 100 times less powerful.” For the military, this means “I can expand these and do things I never thought I could do before.”
Companies like SpaceX and Kymeta produce widely used flat-panel satcom antennas, “but no one has demonstrated the size and scale that the DoD needs for air and space applications,” Cooperman said. There is still a lot of work to be done there.
For the next generation antenna project, he said, “We will also bring our partners from the Air Force, Army, Special Operations Forces, Navy to discuss their problems at the appropriate time.” Classified Levels”.