The ongoing Blackjack program of Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is being closely monitored by both government and civil tech enthusiasts. This is because the program is attempting to showcase utility of mega constellations in commercial space and importance of inexpensive satellites in military projects. This is to combine commercial buses with military payloads and DARPA has declared that its end goal is to launch a constellation of 20 experimental satellites to test the theory. Bus contracts have already been awarded by DARPA to Airbus, Telesat and Blue Canyon Technologies.
These firms will move on to the preliminary design review state and integrate their designs with specific payloads of DARPA. The department has already its first two payloads to Raytheon and Trident Technologies while some more will be assigned in March. This opportunity is being regarded by private firms as a challenging way to be part of the US military projects and they have urged DARPA to avoid turning Blackjack into standard procurement program of Pentagon. The industry view was visible in words of Mandy Vaughn of Vox Space where she cautioned DARPA program manager Paul Thomas on making the Blackjack program too complex during an industry conference in January.
Industry watchers stated that these comments were aimed at a new phase called Pit Boss in Blackjack where demonstrations are being carried out to see if the payloads can share and analyze information during orbit without any specific instructions from ground. But contractors involved in the project had stated that this requirement would make the project too complex and may delay deployment. The solicitation for Pit Boss project was likely to be made in October but nothing has materialized leading to speculation that DARPA is reconsidering it. On Vaughn’s comments Thomas stated that Blackjack will not become a meaningless requirement project and will continue to become a showcase of government leveraging commercial technology.