Telesat acquires DARPA’s Blackjack program contract that is tasked to evaluate use of a networked constellation of smallsats for national security space missions
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Telesat— a satellite operator based in Canada — a contract to study the use of commercial smallsats in DARPA’s experimental low-Earth-orbit (LEO) constellation program known as Blackjack. Telesat is the third company to receive a study contract for Blackjack after Airbus Defence and Space and Blue Canyon Technologies. Blackjack is a DARPA demonstration mission that plans to deploying 20 satellites, each carrying one or more payloads. DARPA is focusing on finding lower cost alternatives to conventional military satellites. According to DARPA, the agency is ready to invest no more than US$ 6 million per satellite, including launch.
Airbus Defence and Space, a Germany-based satellite manufacturer (US$ 2.9 million) and Blue Canyon Technologies, a U.S-based small satellite manufacturer (US$1.5 million) received similar contracts over the past four weeks. Announced on November 27, 2018, Telesat’s US$ 2.8 million contract is a 12-month study to analyze the utility of Telesat buses as the company is focused on its plans for a constellation of around 300 small, broadband satellites. Telesat has not yet selected a manufacturer for its satellites. Airbus Defence and Space and a team formed by Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies are competing to build an unspecified number of satellites. Under the DARPA study, the companies are tasked to evaluate the use of inter-satellite links on Blackjack satellites that would allow the satellites to connect with Telesat’s constellation that is also laced with inter-satellite links for in-space communications.
According to Don Brown, Telesat’s general manager of government services, DARPA choose a satellite operator as part of Blackjack in order to leverage commercial investment in the Telesat LEO constellation. He also stated that DARPA is focused on acquiring economies of scale through development of a pipeline of spacecraft that are synced with the Telesat spacecraft production line, in order to achieve the lowest possible cost for the spacecraft bus supporting Blackjack missions.