Airbus Defense and Space has been awarded a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a satellite bus for the Blackjack program.

The goal of DARPA's Blackjack program is to show the benefits for the military to use low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations and mesh networks. Constellations of inexpensive satellites will permit wide scale disaggregated architectures, enhancing the survivability of many different mission areas.

DARPA's concept is to buy commercial satellite buses and pair them with military sensors and payloads. The satellite bus will generate the power, control attitude, provide propulsion, transmit spacecraft telemetry and provide a mounting system for military payloads such as military sensors.

Airbus Defense and Space, a U.S. subsidiary of Airbus based in Herndon, Virginia, is teamed with OneWeb Satellites, based in Exploration Park, Florida, to fulfill the contract and win future programs.

OneWeb is developing a 600 satellite LEO constellation to provide global broadband internet access, particularly to regions without terrestrial infrastructure. OneWeb's business model is to provide a network for service providers, rather than directly selling broadband services to consumers.

To develop its satellite constellation, OneWeb and Airbus formed a joint venture (JV) to design and manufacture the satellites, developing a capability for high production rates and design-to-cost management based on modular design and agile serial production. The capability, reminiscent of Motorola's manufacturing strategy for Iridium, will lower manufacturing cost and shorten acquisition time. The JV is building a new satellite manufacturing facility in Florida, which Airbus says will "support thousands of jobs."

“We have created a game changer with our overall design, supply chain and production system. Our team is transforming the space industry and we are in the midst of demonstrating we can deliver on our promises.” — Tony Gingiss, CEO, OneWeb Satellites

The capabilities developed for OneWeb's constellation are applicable to other customers, including the U.S. government, which Airbus and OneWeb hope to engage.

“Airbus has previously co-invested hundreds of millions of dollars in high-rate manufacturing technology and supply chain logistics to build large constellations of small satellites. Airbus is committed to growing manufacturing capability in the U.S., and our government customers can leverage this commercial capability to develop low-earth orbit constellations to complement large existing systems.” — Tim Deaver, director of U.S. Space Programs at Airbus Defense and Space

With an extensive network of U.S. suppliers, Airbus claims to be the largest consumer of U.S. aerospace and defense goods in the world, buying more than any other company or even country. Airbus says it invested $16.5 billion with U.S. companies in 2017, supporting 275,000 jobs.