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

WASHINGTON — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded Parsons a $10.8 million contract to prototype a ground operations center for the agency’s Blackjack constellation.

The contract, announced Dec. 10, is a Small Business Innovation Research Phase 3 award for a “Blackjack Prototype Ground Operations Center.”

DARPA started the Blackjack program in 2018 to demonstrate the utility of small satellites in low Earth orbit for military operations. The agency plans to launch as many as 12 satellites in 2022 that will carry a mix of payloads for communications, targeting, missile warning and navigation.  

A number of suppliers are providing satellite buses and payloads for the Blackjack program. DARPA ordered 10 buses from Blue Canyon Technologies and two from Telesat. Raytheon, SEAKR Engineering and SA Photonics are supplying payloads. Lockheed Martin is the satellite integrator.

The space experiments and demonstrations in the Blackjack program are done in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency which plans to deploy a large network of communications and missile-warning satellites in low Earth orbit. 

Parsons has to complete the ground operations center prototype by June 2024.

Parsons is a defense, cybersecurity and intelligence contractor with nearly $4 billion in annual revenues. Last year it acquired Braxton Technologies, a small business that won a number of U.S. Air Force SBIR contracts for satellite ground systems development and integration. 

Braxton in 2017 was selected to develop a future ground system for U.S. Space Force satellite operations known as enterprise ground services, or EGS. The company uses open standards and a common platform to operate different types of satellites. 

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...