DARPA is developing a prototype line of cost-effective reconnaissance satellites that will operate in low Earth orbit as part of the Blackjack program. Credit: DARPA

SAN FRANCISCO – Blue Canyon Technologies selected ExoTerra Resources to provide electric propulsion for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Blackjack Phase 2 and Phase 3 satellites.

Blue Canyon, a Raytheon subsidiary, won a $14.1 million DARPA contract in 2020 to manufacture four Blackjack satellites, with options to build 16 additional small satellites for a constellation in low Earth orbit to provide communications, missile tracking and navigation services.

In 2020, Blue Canyon tapped Orbion Space Technology to supply electric propulsion for its first four Blackjack satellites. ExoTerra was a secondary supplier of Hall effect propulsion systems for Blue Canyon’s first four Blackjack satellites. Littleton, Colorado-based ExoTerra expects its thrusters to fly on two Blue Canyon Blackjack satellites scheduled to launch in 2022.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Blue Canyon and DARPA on this project,” ExoTerra CEO Mike VanWoerkom said in a statement. “Being selected by Blue Canyon validates the hard work we’ve been doing to put the production capabilities in place to meet the growing demand for propulsion from constellations of microsatellites like Blackjack.”

ExoTerra has not yet flight proven its Halo Hall-effect thruster, which fits in one-quarter of a cubesat, VanWoerkom told SpaceNews. ExoTerra’s first thruster flight is scheduled for March.

In response to strong demand for the miniature thrusters, ExoTerra moved one year ago into a 1,022 square meter facility in Littleton, Colorado, where the firm has enough manufacturing capacity to produce 200 propulsion units per year in addition to solar arrays and radiation-tolerant electronic control systems.

ExoTerra also is preparing for a 2022 flight test of its own 12-unit cubesat equipped with a compact, high-impulse solar electric propulsion module. NASA is funding the cubesat flight through the Tipping Point program, which supports technologies for sustained moon and Mars exploration.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...