Defense contractor Northrop Grumman has completed its critical design review and a software demonstration for the Space Force’s Deep-Space Advanced Radar Capability (DARC) program, the company announced Tuesday.
The DARC is a ground-based radar system able to detect and track objects such as satellites and debris moving through geosynchronous orbit, and it’s expected to be a key technology for the Space Force’s space domain awareness mission. The service currently plans to position three of the radars around the globe — the first of which will be located somewhere in the Indo-Pacific.
While current ground-based radars are only capable of tracking objects in space at night and are affected by weather, DARC will give the Space Force 24/7 coverage of deep space no matter the time of day or weather conditions, “eventually providing full global coverage,” according to a Northrop Grumman release.
“DARC will be the first to provide an all-weather, at all times capability in support of the space domain awareness mission that’s critical to national and global security,” Pablo Pezzimenti, vice president of integrated national systems at Northrop Grumman, said in a statement. “The successful critical design review is demonstration of our ability to develop a complex, advanced system with agility and speed.”
Northrop Grumman received a $341 million rapid prototype middle-tier acquisition contract from the Space Force in February 2022 to develop, test and deliver an initial DARC radar to Site 1 in the Indo-Pacific no later than early 2026.
Now that the program has completed its critical design review and software demonstration, the contractor said it will begin focusing on testing key subsystems beginning later in 2023.
The Space Force has already begun scouting for the next two possible DARC sites, as well as any potential new contractors. According to a sources-sought synopsis published on Sam.gov May 16, the service is looking to have DARC Site 2 operational in the European theater no later than October 2027 and Site 3 in the United States no later than October 2028.
“The Government is conducting this market research to determine if there are other sources besides the DARC Site 1 Rapid Prototype incumbent, Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, that could successfully perform and meet Rapid Fielding requirements for DARC Sites 2 and 3,” the document said. “Information received will be considered solely for the purpose of determining whether it is possible to conduct a competition for this effort.”
The Space Force anticipates awarding contracts for Sites 2 and 3 in October, it added.