- The Pentagon wants mesh networks of small satellites capable of replacing its larger, more expensive satellites.
- Project Blackjack’s satellites would replace one satellite with many, making for a more resilient system in wartime.
- The first test satellites will launch in 2021.
The Pentagon’s cutting edge research and development arm is working to develop autonomous fleets of small satellites. Project Blackjack is developing swarms of small satellites that could replace the large, expensive satellites that support U.S. military activities worldwide. Another effort, Pit Boss, will create the autonomous mission management system that keeps the constellation running and the data flowing into the hands of the troops—all without human interaction.
One of the most innovative new space technologies in recent years is the idea of mesh networks, orbiting networks of small, inexpensive satellites. The networks are designed to cover an entire region, or planet, with satellites that communicate not just with ground stations but also with one another. The satellites within the network bounce data from one another instead of a ground station, making for a shorter overall travel distance. The system is also capable of self-adjusting to maintain coverage if one satellite goes down.
Project Blackjack takes a cue from the civilian space sector, particularly SpaceX’s Starlink. Starlink envisions blanketing low-Earth orbit with thousands of cheap communications satellites capable of providing internet access to any point on Earth (much to the annoyance of some astronomers). The sheer number of satellites ensures that data can be routed quickly through the nearest satellite, and if one satellite goes down the others can pick up the slack.