Engineers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in North Laurel have designed, developed and validated the Deep Space Advanced Radar Concept (DARC), a technology demonstrator that uses a sparse array of dish antennas to track objects in space for the U.S. Space Force.

Backed by APL’s significant experience in national security space and air and missile defense, DARC will become the largest-ever tracking radar system.

“DARC technology demonstration is addressing several risks for a future operational radar that enables deep space domain awareness for the nation,” said Patrick Binning, APL mission area executive for National Security Space. “DARC provides the foundation for a critical capability for the defense of space.”

The U.S. Space Force received DARC technology from APL last year. Ultimately, the operational DARC program calls for three transmit/receive sites, spaced at mid-latitudes around the world, to detect, track and maintain custody of satellites.

“The underlying technology for DARC is an example of a critical contribution APL is making in national security,” said Donna Bush, APL’s program manager for DARC. “There are potentially many applications for a system that allows coherent synchronization of radars.”

The Laboratory is acting as design agent of the government reference architecture for the operational program. This effort is the result of nearly a decade of hard work and dedication by many APL professionals in collaboration with the sponsor – inspired by a 2009 NASA study to illustrate how a collection of smaller antennas can be coherently combined to replace a single large antenna at significant cost savings.

By leaning heavily on commercially available components, the APL team reduced technical risk and validated the system’s design prior to the government implementing an operational radar system, which includes multiple high-powered transmit antennas and receive antennas.