BlackJack LEO Constellation


Blackjack is a DARPA program that will replace the old National Security Space (NSS) satellite infrastructure in GEO with a mesh grid operating in LEO made entirely out of commercial, easily interchangeable, over-the-counter products. DARPA intends to use this program to provide the United States Department of Defense with a consistent military network for sensing, communication, and data transport.  Blackjack aimed to have all satellite buses selected by the end of 2020 and have all satellites in LEO by 2021. DARPA limited the budget per satellite to $6 million because modern satellites cost almost $1 billion to design, build, operate, and maintain. DARPA aims to operate on that limited budget by outsourcing the project to the private sector. [1] [2]

In 2018, DARPA awarded Telesat a $550,000 contract to study the implementation of satellite buses in the Blackjack program. European satellite manufacturer Airbus Defense and Space received a $2.9 million contract. Blue Canyon Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, received a contract for $1.5 million. Trident Systems Inc. was given a $1.5 million contract for satellite payloads. [3]

In May 2020, DARPA announced that three Blackjack satellites will be launched in late 2020: Mandrake 1, Mandrake 2, and Wildcard. DARPA says that the Mandrake satellites could form the basis of a future LEO optical mesh network. Wildcard is a software-defined radio satellite which will perform experiments with radio links in LEO. [4]

In June 2020, DARPA announced that it had awarded a $14.1 million contract to Blue Canyon Technologies to develop satellite buses for the constellation. It also announced that it had awarded a $16.3 million contract to SA Photonics to support Blackjack payloads. [5]

In October 2020, DARPA awarded Telesat U.S. Services, LLC a contract for the development and demonstration of commercial LEO spacecraft buses in a constellation network that highlights robust low-latency communication. Telesat U.S. must deliver two spacecraft buses to DARPA within the year in order to test OISL communications and demonstrate OISL interoperability with different government hardware. The current contract stands at $18.3 million, but if more spacecraft are procured from Telesat LEO and all options are exercised, the contract can have a total value of up to $175.6 million. [6]

Telesat has selected Mynaric to supply multiple units of its flagship CONDOR optical inter-satellite link terminals to DARPA’s Blackjack Track B program. The Blackjack System Integrator plans to receive the terminals in mid-2021 with satellites scheduled to launch later in the same year. Telesat will test the capabilities of laser communication products from different vendors as part of the DARPA Blackjack program. [7]

Related Links

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Article: DARPA Awards Contracts for Blackjack program

Article: Solicitation Out for Support for DARPA’s Blackjack program

Article: Telesat Wins Contract for DARPA’s Blackjack program