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The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is eyeing nothing less than to rearchitect space with its BLACKJACK programme, which is targeting demonstrations flights to low-Earth orbit (LEO) in 2021. Using a series of small risk reduction satellites, BLACKJACK aims to demonstrate advanced technology for satellite constellation autonomy and space mesh satellites. More to the point, the programme seeks to develop and validate elements of global high-speed autonomous networks in LEO, proving a capability that could provide the Pentagon with affordable, rapidly deployable, highly connected, resilient and persistent overhead coverage. DoD’s investment in BLACKJACK will meet the urgent warfare requirements of combat commanders and other operators, as well as supporting agencies, to improve capabilities in the space domain, including missile warning and missile defence.

Raytheon Intelligence & Space is on contract to DARPA to build prototype overhead persistent infrared sensor payloads for BLACKJACK. Jason Kim, Business Development Executive for Space and C2 Systems, emphasized that with this contract, his industry team “won a major part in accelerating the delivery of persistent, global coverage of the earth against threats, and we also are very happy to be providing some sophisticated, proliferated defence payloads at low cost – those are two very important things to us.”

Asked about the low-cost aspect of its payload offering, Kim noted that early on, Raytheon invested in many automated, advanced manufacturing capabilities for commercial applications, including the WORLDVIEW LEGION commercial imaging payload. “We’re the payload provider for that. We’re taking a lot of the best practices and advanced manufacturing methods and techniques, to include automated alignment of our sensor optics, to give us the speed we need to deliver the BLACKJACK payloads on time,” he told MON.

Concurrently, Raytheon is also designing PIT BOSS, an autonomous mission management system for the BLACKJACK satellite constellation, with Scientific Systems Company, Incorporated for SEAKR. PIT BOSS “is responsible for the collaboration of each of these BLACKJACK payloads in the constellation, enabling them to work together, process data and send that data to the right users,” Kim explained.

The next major contractual milestone on this contract is the Critical Design Review, scheduled for this November. That event will be followed by the integration and test of the payload with a spacecraft from the programme integrator. “We’ll then support launch integration, then launch operations and finally mission operations.”

While Raytheon declined to name its industry partners on the contract, Kim noted the project optimizes the company’s relationship with non-traditional defence suppliers. “So, that’s another beauty of DARPA BLACKJACK – it’s not just about game-changing technology, it’s just as much about the paradigm shift in creating a new ecosystem of suppliers. This makes our industrial base more resilient. We bring in more innovation and we’re mentoring these non-traditional companies,” he explained.

He referred questions about competitors in this BLACKJACK phase to DARPA, but did offer discriminators setting apart his company’s payload entry from others. “Our payload is very compact, and it has a low size, weight and power. This makes it very easy to be accommodated by different bus vendors and make it interoperable with multiple, different bus vendor interfaces – it integrates with the existing and future architectures for missions like missile defence and missile warning.”

Marty Kauchak in New Orleans for MON

BLACKJACK seeks to provide the Pentagon with affordable, rapidly deployable, highly connected, resilient and persistent overhead coverage. (Graphic via Raytheon Intelligence & Space)

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