DARPA Seeks Aid In The Development Of Low-Earth Orbit Satellite Constellation

DARPA has issued a call to industry for help in developing what is called the Blackjack program. The objective of which is to develop a constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites intended for purposes of military communications and surveillance.

Modern communication technology and connectivity has opened up new capabilities for military operations as well as vulnerabilities The Pentagon is engaged in a constant race to develop the very best in digital and tangible communications solutions. You can click here to see examples of complex tactical communication products designed for troops on the ground. Trying to ensure clear, secure, and dynamic connectivity over their heads is another manner.

Blackjack is aiming for that perfect combination of low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) with all of the same capabilities that come with modern geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellites used for military communications. They’ve reached out to the commercial sector in an effort to reduce launch and operating costs through better technology.

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GEO based satellites have been keeping the U.S. military connected with reasonable success and for quite some time. The problem is that GEO is increasingly crowded and maintaining a massive and essential system is costly, not just in the operational sense but in terms of risk of satellite damage and degradation. And since it takes considerable time to develop and launch satellites meant for GEO, keeping current and responding to threats in a timely matter is near impossible.

DARPA is confident that advancements in the private sector, particularly those used for commercial space programs and projects, will translate to a solution for Blackjack. The program currently has three main objectives. They include the development of payload and mission-level autonomy software that will allow for autonomous, on-orbit data processing and and shared task capabilities; the use of advanced commercial manufacturing for military payloads and the spacecraft bus with utilization of commercial off-the-shelf-like parts, reduced screening and acceptance testing and reduced expectations for spacecraft life; and the demonstration of satellite payloads in LEO that are comparable to current GEO system. DARPA would also like to spend fewer than $6 million for each satellite.

The end goal is to create a constellation consisting of 60 to 200 satellites orbiting between 311 and 807 miles above Earth’s surface. This constellation would then be covered from a sole operations center, which would cover all government satellites. It would also be capable of operating for 30 days without the operations center and should allow for payload data processing on-orbit and free of any ground data processing assistance.

More information on the opportunity can be found through the Federal Business Opportunities website: FedBizOpps.gov.