DARPA Satellites Damaged in Processing Accident, Removed from SpaceX Transporter-1 Rideshare Mission

When a SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with dozens of satellites aboard on the Transporter-1 rideshare mission later this month, it will do so without a pair of experimental satellites from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

SpaceNews reports the two small satellites that make up DARPA’s Mandrake 2 mission were damaged during a pre-launch processing mishap at SpaceX processing facility in Florida.

According to an industry source the mishap happened while the satellites were being stacked and the payload separation system was accidentally released. SpaceX did not respond to questions on what caused the mishap.

The Mandrake 2 satellites are equipped with optical inter-satellite links for broadband data transmission. DARPA is testing this technology as the possible basis of future optically meshed computer networks in low Earth orbit.

The satellites are part of DARPA’s Blackjack program, which is focused on developing advanced space technologies.

SpaceX’s Transporter-1 rideshare mission is now scheduled for Jan. 21 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Falcon 9 will deploy the payloads into sun-synchronous orbit.

Small Satellite Leader Blue Canyon Technologies Completes CDR for DARPA Blackjack Program

BCT demonstrated maturity and capability of its X-SAT bus design which will enhance LEO communications for the U.S. Department of Defense

BOULDER, Colo. (Blue Canyon Technology PR) — Leading small satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies, Inc. (“BCT” or “Blue Canyon”) announced today that it has completed its critical design review (CDR) for the Blackjack Program, a military space capabilities demonstration being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

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Biden Appoints Ellen Stofan to Lead NASA Agency Review Team

Ellen Stofan (Credit: Smithsonian Institution)
  • Former astronaut Pam Melroy and Kathryn Sullivan also named to review teams
  • Former XPRIZE vice president leads OSTP team

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

President-elect Joe Biden has appointed former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan to lead the review team assigned to the space agency.

Stofan, a planetary scientist who became the first female director of the National Air and Space Museum in 2018, leads an eight-member team that includes former NASA astronaut Pam Melroy and former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati.

Biden has also appointed Kathryn Sullivan, who was part of the first group of women recruited as NASA astronauts, to serve on the agency review team for the Department of Commerce.

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Telesat U.S. Services Awarded DARPA Contract for Blackjack Track B Research, Development and in-Orbit Demonstration with Telesat LEO

Telesat U.S. Services will deliver two spacecraft in less than one year to showcase the use of Optical Inter-Satellite Links in orbit for government requirements

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, October 14, 2020 (Telesat U.S. Services PR) – Telesat U.S. Services, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of leading global satellite operator Telesat, has been awarded a contract by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for the development and in-orbit demonstration of commercial low-Earth-orbit (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 in-orbit testing the capabilities of Optical Inter-Satellite Links (OISLs).  

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DARPA Completes Key Milestone on Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapons Program

Artist’s illustration of hypersonic missile. (Credit: DARPA)

Risk reduction milestone paves way for airborne tests this year

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — DARPA and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) today announced successful completion of captive carry tests of two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) and are ready to proceed to first free-flight testing within the calendar year. The joint Agency and Service effort seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.

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Department of Defense Announces New DARPA Director, Dr. Victoria Coleman

WASHINGTON, August 31, 2020 (DoD PR) — Today, the Department of Defense named Dr. Victoria Coleman as the director of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). 

Dr. Coleman’s career spans over 30 years in academia, the private sector, and government, including previous service as the founding Chair of DARPA’s Microsystems Exploratory Council and membership on the Defense Science Board.

She has led cutting edge research and development across the technology sector, to include service as the Chief Executive Officer of Atlas AI; Senior Vice President at Technicolor; Chief Technology Officer of Connected Home Business; Vice President, Engineering at Yahoo!; Vice President, Software Engineering at Hewlett-Packard Palm Global Business Unit; and Director for Security Initiatives at Intel.

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Miniature Telescope Demonstration Focuses on Sharpening View of Distant Objects in Space

DARPA’s Deformable Mirror CubeSat deployed from the International Space Station July 13. (Credit: NASA)

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — A recently deployed DARPA CubeSat seeks to demonstrate technology that could improve imaging of distant objects in space and allow powerful space telescopes to fit into small satellites. DARPA’s Deformable Mirror (DeMi) CubeSat deployed from the International Space Station July 13, beginning the technology demonstration of a miniature space telescope with a small deformable mirror called a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) mirror.

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Parts Come Together This Year for DARPA’s Robotic In-Space Mechanic

Flight manipulator arm, part of the RSGS robotic payload. (Credit: Naval Research Laboratory)

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — Eyeing a launch in 2023, DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program will focus the remainder of this year on completing the elements of the robotic payload. The objective of RSGS is to create an operational dexterous robotic capability to repair satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), extending satellite life spans, enhancing resilience, and improving reliability for the current U.S. space infrastructure.

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SEAKR Selected As Pit Boss Prime For DARPA’s Blackjack Program Advanced Space Processing

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (SEAKR PR) — SEAKR® Engineering, Inc. (SEAKR) is pleased to announce it has been awarded as the prime contractor for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Pit Boss Phase I Option II contract to further expand existing contractual work supporting the Blackjack program. The award is part of a three phase effort seeking on-orbit demonstration of full processing capability in a multi-satellite constellation.

DARPA’s Blackjack program focuses on integrating commercial satellite technologies into a constellation of affordable, small, secure, and resilient military satellites. 

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NASA to Fund Made in Space Project to Develop In-space Laser Welding System

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Made in Space for a small business award to develop a system capable of autonomously welding structures in space.

The Mobile End-Effector Laser Device (MELD) would be capable of welding “aerospace-grade metals to assemble large, stable structures on-orbit or on the lunar or Martian surface. These include trusses, arrays, habitats, and pressure vessels,” according to the proposal summary.

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DARPA Awards Contract to Lockheed Martin for Blackjack Program

SUNNYVALE, Calif – Apr. 27, 2020 – DARPA has awarded Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) a $5.8 million contract for the first phase of satellite integration on the Blackjack program.  

Lockheed Martin will define and manage interfaces between Blackjack’s bus, payload and Pit Boss – its autonomous, space-based command and data processor. Additional scope includes testbed validation of internal and external vehicle interfaces. Program work will primarily be performed in Sunnyvale, California.

“Lockheed Martin has built and integrated a variety of payload types and sizes for every type of mission and we bring all of that experience to the Blackjack program,” said Sarah Reeves, vice president of Missile Defense Programs at Lockheed Martin. “This is an exciting new approach to plug-n-play design for LEO and we are up for the challenge.”

DARPA’s Blackjack program aims to develop and demonstrate the critical elements for a global high-speed network in low earth orbit (LEO) that provides the Department of Defense with highly connected, autonomous, resilient, and persistent coverage employing multiple payload types and missions. Future phases of Blackjack are expected to include build, test, and launch of a demonstration constellation in 2021-2022. 

For additional information, visit our website: www.lockheedmartin.com

About Lockheed Martin 

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 110,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. 

SNC Leverages VORTEX Engine Technology for DARPA’s OpFires Program

VORTEX hot fire. (Credit: Combat Capabilities Development Command, Aviation and Missile Center)

SPARKS, Nev. (April 2, 2020) – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the global aerospace and national security leader owned by Eren and Fatih Ozmen, reached a major milestone in the advancement of hypersonic propulsion with its patented VORTEX engine, advancing to the next phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Operational Fires (OpFires) program.

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Universities Space Research Association to Lead a DARPA Project on Quantum Computing

Columbia, MD and Washington DC, March 26, 2020 (USRA PR) — Universities Space Research Association (USRA) today announced that DARPA has awarded the organization and its partners Rigetti Computing and the NASA Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) to work as a team to advance the state of art in quantum optimization. USRA, as the prime contractor of the award, will manage the collaboration.

The collaboration will focus on developing a superconducting quantum processor, hardware -aware software and custom algorithms that take direct advantage of the hardware advances to solve scheduling and asset allocation problems. In addition, the team will design methods for benchmarking the hardware against classical computers to determine quantum advantage.

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Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics Subsidiary Selected by DARPA for Robotic Servicing Mission

The Mission Robotic Vehicle, shown with DARPA’s RSGS Robotic Payload is pioneering robotic servicing of satellites. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

DULLES, Va., March 4, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – SpaceLogistics LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has been selected by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as its commercial partner for the agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

The groundbreaking mission will feature the first-ever commercial robotic servicing spacecraft and aims to expand the market for satellite servicing of both commercial and government client satellites with advanced robotics technology. The program objectives include enhanced capabilities such as in-orbit repair, augmentation, assembly, detailed inspection and relocation of client satellites.

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Astra Space Scrub Launch of New Booster, Ends DARPA Launch Challenge

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space scrubbed the launch of its new booster from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska (PSC — Alaska) today, putting an end to its attempt to win $12 million in the DARPA Launch Challenge and the competition itself.

The countdown reached 53 seconds prior to a scheduled liftoff at 11:55 a.m. AKST (3:55 EST). The guidance, navigation and control officer called a hold on the launch for an undisclosed data problem.

Astra Space spent the next two hours trying to address the problem and launch the rocket with four satellites aboard. The company scrubbed the launch with about 30 minutes left in the three-hour launch window.

Astra Space, which is based in Alemeda, Calif., was attempting to win $2 million from DARPA for launching today. If it was successful, the company would have been given an opportunity to conduct a second launch from a different pad at PSC — Alaska within days to win an additional $10 million.

The competition challenged companies to conduct two launches on relatively short notice within a few weeks from different locations.

Astra Space was given two weeks to relocate its booster and equipment to Alaska and conduct a launch. Monday was the last day in the launch window for the first launch.

Astra Space was the last company standing in the DARPA competition. Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space pulled out of the competition to focus on the still-pending maiden flight of its LauncherOne booster. Vector Space filed for bankruptcy.