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Raytheon Designs Sensors For Blackjack — & OPIR

Posted by Theresa Hitchens on

PARIS AIR SHOW: Raytheon currently is sitting in the catbird’s seat when it comes to missile warning satellites, with a hand — and contracts — in both the Air Force’s flagship Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (Next-Gen OPIR) and DARPA’s hot Blackjack program.

Wallis Laughrey, vice president of Raytheon Space Systems, who spoke to me yesterday here, is very excited about Blackjack — revealing that Raytheon is under contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop one of the multitude of payloads being incorporated.

“Raytheon was selected as a Phase I Blackjack payload performer and is designing a payload to [program design review.] Phase 1 focuses on the research and the exploration for the development of the system requirements and preliminary designs. Raytheon is developing a military payload,” a Raytheon spokesperson clarified in an email. The company deferred to DARPA regarding contract value.

“The Blackjack program is broken up into a series of pieces, which are a series of sensors, a series of busses, some aspects of mission management and autonomy, and an integrator and then other pieces,” Laughrey said. “Where we really come into play is on the payload side — we’re on contract right now for one of the payloads — and we’ve been working in a very collaborative way with the bus providers to show how our payload architecture can fit on as many of those busses as possible as a hosted payload.”

Raytheon also is “looking at options where it [the Blackjack payload design] is a free flier by itself,” he said.

“For us, Blackjack is a wonderful program because we can leverage things that we don’t get to do in space very often — things that we do in our business in missiles, or in the radar business, or in the airborne radar business — where we build in quantity, and we design for manufacturability and affordability in quantity, right from the very beginning.”

Under DARPA’s Blackjack schedule, (unless something has changed and not been announced) the Phase 1 design review for both payloads and busses is slated for the end of third-quarter this year. DARPA has awarded several bus contracts late last year: $2.9 million to an Airbus/OneWeb team; $2.8 million to Telesat; and $1.5 million to Blue Canyon.

In January, it awarded a $1.5 million payload contract to Trident Systems. The end goal of the program is to demonstrate 20 satellites in LEO by the end of third-quarter 2022. But the mission goal of Blackjack is to prove the feasibility of LEO constellations based on a Lego-like, low-cost, commercial-style model — in DARPA speak: “a commoditized bus and low-cost interchangeable payloads with short design cycles and frequent technology upgrades.”

DoD’s overarching strategy currently is “creating a number of different architectural options” for missile warning, Laughrey explained. Blackjack is looking at the possibility of a large Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation (a so-called ‘proliferated LEO’ model).

Next-Gen OPIR is a more traditional program, although it also is seen as a test of whether DoD can build highly complex, large satellites faster. Next-Gen OPIR will have  three satellites in Geosynchronous(GEO) orbit and two in polar orbit — mimicking the architecture of its predecessor the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) network. Raytheon is under contract to prime contractor Lockheed Martin for the Next-Gen OPIR payloads for the GEO satellites.

“We work both sides,” Laughrey enthused.

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