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The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Lockheed Martin a contract, valued at $5.8 million (€5.3 million) for the first phase of satellite integration on its BLACKJACK programme, the company announced on 22 April.

The company will define and manage interfaces between BLACKJACK’s bus, payload and PIT BOSS – the programme’s autonomous spaceborne command and data processor. Additional contract scope includes testbed validation of internal and external vehicle interfaces.

The DARPA programme seeks to increase the resilience of a potential global high-speed network in low earth orbit (LEO). aims to develop and demonstrate the critical elements for a global high-speed network in low earth orbit (LEO) that will provide DoD with highly connected, autonomous and persistent coverage employing multiple payload types and missions. Key objectives of the programme include:

• Development and implementation of payload and mission-level autonomy software; demonstration of autonomous orbital operations, including on-orbit distributed decision processors;

• Develop and leverage advanced commercial manufacturing for military payloads and spacecraft bus;

• Demonstrate LEO operation of payloads to augment national security space (NSS) assets.

The last objective also stipulates that LEO performance is to be on a par with current geosynchronous orbits and that the combined bus, payload and launch costs be contained to under $6 million per orbital node, while payloads meet the size, weight and power consumption (SWaP) constraints of the commercial bus.

NSS assets traditionally occupy geosynchronous orbits, expensive to achieve and maintain and increasingly vulnerable to being degraded or destroyed. BLACKJACK seeks to incorporate advances in the commercial space sector into its future networks, offering economies of scale previously unavailable. DARPA hopes thereby to commoditise the spacecraft bus and enable the development and use of low-cost interchangeable payloads, incorporating short design cycles and frequent technology upgrades. Future phases of BLACKJACK are expected to include build, test, and launch of a demonstration constellation in 2021-2022.

Lockheed Martin has built and integrated a variety of payload types and sizes for every type of mission and we bring all of that experience to the BLACKJACK program,” said Sarah Reeves, Vice President of Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin. “This is an exciting new approach to ‘plug-n-play’ design for LEO and we are up for the challenge.”

An artist’s concept of the BLACKJACK low earth orbit constellation when completed. (Graphic: DARPA)

- Mönch Publications - Latest Issues -

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