SEAKR eyes next phases of Blackjack space avionics project for communications and surveillance networking

March 17, 2021
SEAKR takes on second and third phases of the Blackjack Pit Boss to develop payloads for two satellites; and demonstrate them in space for six months.

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are asking SEAKR Engineering Inc. in Centennial, Colo., to continue developing future space avionics for low-Earth-orbit (LEO) military satellites based on commercial satellite technologies.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced a $60.5 million to SEAKR on Friday to carry out phases two and three of the Blackjack Pit Boss project. SEAKR won a contract in October 2019 to design the Blackjack Pit Boss spacecraft avionics.

The DARPA Blackjack program seeks to orbit a constellation of small, secure, and affordable military satellites that capitalize on modern commercial satellite technologies by developing low-cost space payloads and commoditized satellite buses with low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) with similar capabilities to today’s military communications that operate at geosynchronous orbit (GEO), but at a fraction of the cost.

SEAKR in Blackjack Pit Boss phase-one is defining bus and payload requirements. Now company experts turn to the second and third phases of the Blackjack Pit Boss project, which are to develop bus and payloads for a two satellite on-orbit demonstration; and demonstrate a two-plane system in low-Earth orbit for six months.

Related: SEAKR pushing-on with military research project to create space networking avionics for small satellites

A future Blackjack demonstration constellation will involve 20 spacecraft in two planes with one or more payloads on each satellite.

SEAKR is designing the Blackjack Pit Boss electronics to reduce integration risk on the project. Pit Boss is an avionics unit for each Blackjack spacecraft that has a high-speed processor and encryption devices that will function as a common networking and electrical interface.

Not only will Pit Boss provide a common electrical interface to each payload, but it also will provide mission level autonomy functions, enable on-orbit edge computing, manage communication between Blackjack satellites and ground users, provide a command and telemetry link to the bus, and encrypt payload data.

Blackjack’s 20-satellite demonstration will emulate a 90-satellite functional layer. A 20-satellite combination of two orbital planes of 10 satellites each will fly in 2021 or 2022 to demonstrate low-cost sensor capabilities, real-time on-orbit payload processing, low-latency global connectivity using a commercial data transport layer, and Pit Boss autonomy.

Related: U.S. Space Force reaches out to industry for companies able to adapt 5G wireless networking to space uses

Constellation-level and node-level command and control, health monitoring and remediation, inter- and intra-satellite data management, and on-orbit resource scheduling will come from the Pit Boss on-orbit cloud network. Pit Boss hardware and software will go aboard each Blackjack satellite node.

The future Blackjack satellite constellation is for satellite communications (SATCOM), as well as payloads that can detect, identify, and track advanced missile threats; provide positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT); and provide space-based surface moving target indication.

DARPA officials say they envision increasing the number of LEO satellites in orbit from 20, which could cover a geographic region for several hours, to a full constellations of hundreds of satellites that could cover the entire Earth.

Related: DARPA Blackjack program focuses on risk reduction flights and simulations to prepare for full demonstration

Blackjack will capitalize on open-architecture standards and system controls to enable easy insertion of third-party software and hardware, including space-based payloads and hosted applications, communications equipment, and surface-based user devices and software.

SEAKR's Pit Boss processing system the DARPA Blackjack program leverages four generations of space processor architectures, with a high level of on-orbit reconfigurable processing capability, SEAKR officials say.

Key technologies for SEAKR's Blackjack Pit Boss work include A/D and D/A converters, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) processing technologies, company officials say. For more information contact SEAKR Engineering online at, , or DARPA at

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