On Orbit captures the current and past SDA efforts that have been launched into low earth orbit.  SDA continues to push the boundaries of next-generation space capabilities and what we put on orbit is the leading edge.  As an agency, we accept a higher level of risk, employ novel business models, and move to develop and field capabilities more quickly than many other “traditional” government agencies and nowhere is that more apparent than what we have on orbit.


Mandrake II Overview

Mandrake II is an optical communication terminal (OCT) experiment in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  The two space vehicles are a primary contract with SEAKR and specifically with OCTs from SA Photonics.  The experiment will test optical links at increasing ranges with an expected maximum distance of 2400 kilometers, based on orbital limitations.  Initial goals for Mandrake II include:

  • Evaluation of pointing, acquisition, and tracking algorithms
  • Characterization of transfer rates and bit-error rates
  • Evaluation of optical link performance both space-to-space and space-to-ground.

Successful testing of Mandrake II is expected to inform design modification and updates for future OCTs and provide risk mitigation for future tranche evolution.

LINCS Overview

The Laser Interconnect and Networking Communication System (LINCS) program is an experiment in partnership with General Atomics.  The two LINCS space vehicles will test space-to-space, space-to-air, and space-to-ground optical communication terminals.  Initial goals for LINCS include:

  • Evaluation of pointing, acquisition, and tracking algorithms
  • Characterization of transfer rates and bit-error rates
  • Evaluation of optical link performance both space-to-space, space-to-ground, and space-to-air.
  • Implementation of a pod-mounted OCT capability for Low Probability of Intercept/Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) evaluation.

Successful testing of LINCS is expected to bring first of its kind capabilities for LPI/LPD and continued evolution of technology in the area of OCT.

POET Overview

Prototype On-Orbit Experimental Testbed (POET) is a Space Development Agency (SDA) Scientific Systems Company flying on a Loft Orbital YAM-3 spacecraft. POET will provide an on-orbit Custody Layer data fusion application that will reside within an overarching Battle Management Command, Control, and Communications (BMC3) software system. Initial objectives:

  • Demonstration of an Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) algorithm with an Electro–optical sensor on board the Loft Orbital spacecraft bus
  • Accommodation of 3rd party developed algorithms for fusion of data from multiple remote sensing sources
  • Early experience with the spacecraft’s CFC-400 processor’s finite size, weight, and power
  • Early orbital testing for future Custody Layer mission applications
  • Battle Management Command, Control, and Communication (BMC3) insights and test opportunities

PIRPL Overview

Prototype Infrared Payload (PIRPL) is a medium field-of-view, multi-spectral infrared imager developed in partnership with the Missile Defense Agency and Northrop Grumman.  The experiment will launch on Cygnus resupply mission NG-16 to the International Space Station (ISS), where it will undergo commissioning and initial data collection while berthed with the ISS. After the berthed mission completes, a free-flyer phase is planned in which PIRPL will perform additional data collections from an orbit above the ISS. PIRPL's primary objective is to collect representative infrared (IR) background images of the Earth and its atmosphere in multiple wavelengths. PIRPL data will enable improvement of existing IR scene models and development of advanced image processing capabilities. PIRPL data will span several infrared wavebands in the shortwave and midwave IR range that can also support weather and environmental monitoring missions in the future.  Successful imagery from PIRPL may inform future SDA tranche evolution.

Read more about the NG-16 Cygnus Mission here.