WASHINGTON — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced on June 10 it awarded Blue Canyon Technologies a $14.1 million contract for satellite buses for the Blackjack program. DARPA on June 9 also announced a $16.3 million contract award to SA Photonics for Blackjack payloads.

The Blackjack program is an experiment to show the military utility of low Earth orbit constellations and mesh networks of low-cost satellites.

Both companies already had been selected as part of a pool of Blackjack satellite bus and payload suppliers and had received study contracts. These latest contracts are to produce hardware for the demonstration.

DARPA wants to make plug-and-play satellites where new payloads can be added without having to redesign the bus. That approach would allow the military to speed up the production and lower the cost of satellites compared to traditional acquisitions of custom-built spacecraft.

DARPA plans to launch the first two satellites in late 2020 and 18 more by 2022.

The contract awarded to Blue Canyon Technologies, based in Boulder, Colorado, requires delivery of an undisclosed number of satellite buses by June 2021.

SA Photonics, of Los Gatos, California, received a contract to produce optical communications terminals to be delivered by March 2021. DARPA will put up a pair of small satellites that will carry optical inter-satellite links for broadband data. The agency said this technology could form the basis of future optically meshed networks in LEO.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...