The Boeing Co. [BA] will develop a new type of system providing power to spacecraft for maneuvering propulsion, communications, radar and more, under the first phase of a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

The company and other contractors on its team will work in the first phase of the Fast Access Spacecraft Testbed (FAST) program.

FAST is a multiphase effort to design and develop a ground test prototype of a new High Power Generation Subsystem (HPGS) for spacecraft. During Phase 1, Boeing will develop a complete plan for a demonstration system.

Team members include DR Technologies, Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] unit Astro Aerospace, Texas A&M University, Spectrolab Inc. (a Boeing subsidiary), and key suppliers.

"Boeing is honored to work with DARPA in developing this revolutionary system that will enable highly mobile spacecraft and ultra-high-power payloads," said Tom Kessler, FAST program manager for Boeing Advanced Network and Space Systems. "Boeing brings unique experience in high-power spacecraft and electric propulsion to this team as we help DARPA advance this promising technology."

The Boeing HPGS is an innovative integration of solar-concentrator, power-conversion, and heat-rejection systems supported with an ultra-lightweight structure and deployment system for pointing toward and tracking the sun.

When combined with electric thrusters, the Boeing HPGS will produce a lightweight power and propulsion system capable of providing responsive spacecraft maneuverability for on-orbit servicing, space-based situational awareness, and high-power payloads such as communication and radar systems.

Boeing experience includes more than 70 percent of the spacecraft ever flown with more than 15 kilowatts at beginning of life, and six operational high-power solar concentrator spacecraft, including 13 missions using 9 kilowatts for electric propulsion to help the spacecraft reach geosynchronous orbit.

Upon DARPA approval, the Boeing team will perform Phase 2 work to include fabrication, assembly and testing of two HPGS test articles to validate performance characteristics in simulated space environments. An on-orbit demonstration of the system may be conducted following the ground test program.

(Please see story on Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] electric propulsion for the Air Force Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) in Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, July 28, 2008.)