Telesat U.S. Services, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of satellite operator Telesat, has been awarded a contract by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for the development and on-orbit demonstration of commercial LEO spacecraft buses in a LEO constellation network with robust low-latency communications features as part of DARPA’s Blackjack program.
Following Telesat’s initial 2018 contract for system engineering and interface definition under the Blackjack Phase 1 program, Telesat U.S. Services will develop and demonstrate the Blackjack Phase 2/3 Track B technology, including on-orbit testing the capabilities of Optical Inter-Satellite Links (OISLs).
As part of Phase 2, Telesat U.S. Services will deliver two spacecraft buses to DARPA in less than one year for a “risk reduction” flight to test OISL communications with government payloads in orbit and to demonstrate OISL interoperability with different hardware. The Phase 2 base contract represents an $18.3 million program for Telesat U.S. Services. Subsequently, additional Telesat LEO spacecraft may be procured to fully populate the Blackjack constellation, which represents a total contract value of up to $175.6 million if all options are exercised.
The Blackjack program is a demonstration of LEO satellites in hybrid commercial- government constellations offering highly resilient space systems, global persistence, low latency communications and rapid technology refresh. These enabling objectives will be accomplished by leveraging commercial space technologies including commoditized spacecraft buses, ground infrastructure and user segments at unprecedented low costs.
The company said the Telesat LEO constellation includes a number of distinctive features that align with the Blackjack program vision, including spacecraft buses with native OISL capability, mesh networking, onboard processing, and a full global network architecture backed by global priority spectrum allocations.
“This next phase of the Blackjack program will showcase the powerful capabilities that commercial LEO networks bring to a hybrid architecture for government space communications,” said Don Brown, General Manager, Telesat U.S. Services. “With OISLs and advanced networking native to the Telesat LEO constellation architecture, we are uniquely positioned to deliver interoperable mesh connectivity between government and commercial constellations. We look forward to continuing our work with DARPA to prove out the game-changing nature of hybrid commercial- government networks.”