The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has deployed two Mandrake 2 spacecraft named Able and Baker under its Blackjack project.

Launched on 30 June, the satellites will showcase advanced laser communications technologies for a wider government stakeholder team.

This team includes DARPA, Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV), Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) office and Space Development Agency (SDA).

The mission is developed as an early risk-reduction flight for DARPA’s Blackjack programme.

Blackjack project aims to build a constellation of cost-effective, small, secure, and resilient military satellites leveraging commercial satellite technologies.

DARPA noted that Mandrake 2 will prove its interoperable viability of low size, weight, power, and cost laser communications terminals during its on-orbit mission.

The two satellites are progressing towards checkout and commissioning, and are functioning well, stated the agency.

DARPA Tactical Technology Office Blackjack Programme programme manager Stephen Forbes said: “This constitutes a game-changing advancement and a critical enabler for proliferated space architectures.

“Mandrake 2 has already successfully demonstrated a rapid satellite development timeline, since the Blackjack programme moved from contract award to delivery of space vehicles at the launch site in less than nine months.”

A rapid design and development team of industry performers led by prime contractor SEAKR Engineering have contributed to the mission.

The satellite buses for Mandrake 2 were built by Astro Digital while Advanced Solutions (ASI) wrote the Mandrake 2 flight software and is supporting mission operations.

Lockheed Martin provided integration support and launch procurement for Mandrake 2, with the satellite’s optical inter-satellite link (OISL) hardware developed by SA Photonics.

As part of SmallSat Rideshare Program, SpaceX provided launch services for the mission.

In October 2019, DARPA awarded a Pit Boss contract to SEAKR Engineering to support the Blackjack Proliferated Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Demonstration Program.