CACI International has achieved a significant goal in space connectivity, executing space to space optical communication links in low Earth orbit.
The Reston, Virginia-based professional services and information technology company said Thursday they completed the mission alongside the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Space Development Agency under the auspices of the Mandrake II program.
“We are on the path to supporting the contested space domain with faster, more secure satellites,” declared CACI CEO and president John Mengucci.
Three-time consecutive Wash100 Award recipient Mengucci specified that national security demands dependable technology that can use high-speed networks and advanced intelligence systems on modestly sized satellites.
DARPA, SDA and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate are responsible for spearheading Mandrake II, in which the agencies seek to monitor the pointing, acquisition and tracking algorithms that are central to the optical communication terminal processes. Building on these algorithms and terminals, communication links in the Blackjack and SDA Transport and Tracking Layer constellations are formed.
Enabled by CACI’s CrossBeam free-space optical terminals, a test was run on April 14 that lasted 40+ minutes and successfully formed an optical link, which evinced closed-loop tracking and data transfer across a 100+ km link distance. Over 200 gigabits of information was transferred.
The inaugural links represent the first step in creating a plethora of secure, space-based communications networks so that the defense community, especially the National Defense Space Architecture, has a platform for dispatching data with speed and volume.
CACI’s work on the LEO optical communication links was aided by photonics engineering and manufacturing company SA Photonics, which CACI acquired in December 2021. The former company’s manufacturing facilities in California and Florida will be instrumental in replicating and mass-producing the terminals that were used in the connectivity trial run.
“Through the acquisition of SA Photonics, our joint technology and manufacturing capabilities have enabled this successful milestone,” Mengucci said of the companies’ collaborative accomplishment.