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DARPA successfully deploys first two Blackjack satellites

Mandrake 2 spacecraft
Mandrake 2 spacecraft Able and Baker pre-launch Photo: Astro Digital

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) revealed it successfully deployed two satellites on June 30 as part of the SpaceX Transporter 2 launch.

Both Mandrake 2 spacecraft, Able and Baker, are functioning well and progressing through checkout and commissioning, according to the agency.

Conceived as an early risk-reduction flight for DARPA’s Blackjack program, the Mandrake 2 mission will prove out advanced laser communications technologies for a broad government stakeholder team that includes DARPA, Space Development Agency (SDA), Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV), and Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) office.

The Blackjack program aims to develop and demonstrate the critical elements for a global high-speed network in low earth orbit (LEO) that provides the defense department with highly connected, autonomous, resilient, and persistent coverage employing multiple payload types and missions.

During its on-orbit mission, Mandrake 2 will demonstrate the viability of low size, weight, power, and cost laser communications terminals that are interoperable.

“This constitutes a game-changing advancement and a critical enabler for proliferated space architectures,” said Stephen Forbes who is program manager of the Blackjack program in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.

“Mandrake 2 has already successfully demonstrated a rapid satellite development timeline, since the Blackjack program moved from contract award to delivery of space vehicles at the launch site in less than nine months.”

The successful launch of Mandrake 2 represents the culmination of a rapid design and development effort by a large team of industry performers led by SEAKR Engineering, as the prime contractor.

Astro Digital built the satellite buses for Mandrake 2. Advanced Solutions (ASI) wrote the Mandrake 2 flight software and is supporting mission operations. Maverick Space Systems performed integration and test analysis, as well as launch integration services. Lockheed Martin provided integration support and launch procurement. SA Photonics developed the optical inter-satellite link (OISL) hardware demonstrated as part of the Mandrake 2 mission, and SpaceX provided launch services as part of its SmallSat Rideshare Program.