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A new space architecture will support the building of an optically meshed network, optical telecommunications network employing wired fiber-optic communication. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeks to demonstrate the value of low earth orbit satellites for the Department of Defense. Its Blackjack satellite 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, resilient, and persistent coverage.
The agency will launch its first Blackjack satellite into orbit later this year, with more to follow in 2021. The small satellites will carry advanced technologies that will demonstrate space-based mesh networks and constellation autonomy.
The first experimental satellite will be Mandrake 1, a cubesat hosting supercomputer processing chips. Mandrake 2 will use two cubesats to demonstrate the possibility of a space-based mesh network by sharing data over optical intersatellite links. Wildcard, another payload, will experiment with links to tactical radios from orbit over a software-defined radio. A fourth unnamed experiment will host a number of advanced third party algorithms to test out on orbit, according to c4isrnet.com.
The demonstration flights will be conducted in partnership with the U.S. Space Force and the Space Development Agency, an organization stood up in March 2019 to develop a new national security space architecture composed of hundreds of satellites in low earth orbit.