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Optical Interconnects for High-Speed High-Efficiency Intra-satellite Data Transfer in the Space Environment


OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Microelectronics; Space Technology


OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate a photonics-based optical data transfer capability suitable for use in the space environment for intra-satellite data movement between electronic components.


DESCRIPTION: Advances in digital microelectronics enable critically important capabilities for DoD space systems in the areas of information processing, sensors, and communications.  System performance in these domains is now more and more constrained not by the limits of processing speed at individual chips, but rather by the ability to move data between them electrically.  Optical interconnects for intra-satellite data transfer is already in use in some commercial space ventures, but for military use these implementations are inadequate in terms of size, mass, and power.  Currently, they do not have the reliability and robustness that is required for long-term use in the natural and strategic space environments.  The target performance is a minimum data rate of 250 Gb/s with maximum energy loss of 5 pJ/bit.  To meet size, weight, and power constraints, the approach should implement an optical transceiver with photonic and electronic integrated circuits in a multi-chip package to enable sending and receiving data via optical fiber.  The environmental objectives are as follows:  Radiation Environment:  ≥300 krad of total ionizing dose (TID) and >75 MeV·cm2/mg linear energy transfer (LET) for single event effects (SEE), Temperature Range:  -55 to 135 C.


PHASE I: The resource constraints are 6 months and $150,000.  Vendors will evaluate design trades, component selection, packaging options, etc., to select a candidate design to meet system performance  and environmental objectives.  They will provide a roadmap for Phase II execution.


PHASE II: The resource constraints are 24 months and $1,500,000. Vendors will develop a prototype of the candidate design, leveraging components that will provide a path to environmental qualification. They will demonstrate that the design  achieves the data rate and efficiency targets.  The vendor will identify qualification risks and propose a qualification test plan.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: The Phase III effort will be an on-orbit demonstration of intra-satellite data transfer operations.  This will be enabled by laboratory demonstration of the capability and TRL 5 at the conclusion of the Phase II.  Lower cost to orbit, proliferating commercial activity, and more complex military operations in mission areas that include Space Domain Awareness and autonomy are expected to lead Phase III opportunities to validate the capability.



  1. International Defense Security & Technology December 12, 2021 "DARPA PIPES developing optical transceiver capabilities into multi-chip modules for high throughput parallel processing".;


KEYWORDS: Optical Transceiver; Optical Interconnects; High-speed data comm; Photonics; Radiation hard photonics

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