While Boeing and its suppliers are rapidly shedding jobs due to the pandemic-driven downturn in commercial aerospace, satellite imaging and data analysis firm BlackSky is booming.
BlackSky, with about 140 employees split evenly between Seattle and Herndon, Va., said it plans to hire about 45 more people in the next six months at the two locations.
And the joint venture that builds its satellites in Tukwila is also hiring.
BlackSky’s business consists of monitoring any corner of the Earth’s surface from orbiting satellites and analyzing the images for both commercial and national security customers, providing what it markets as “high velocity insights that were previously unattainable.”
“The rate and volume at which our customers are consuming global monitoring information is increasing dramatically,” said BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole.
The company will hire high-level engineers in the fields of software, satellite systems and imaging, and has openings in government affairs and finance.
BlackSky’s executive leadership and its business development and sales teams are in Herndon, along with some software development. Seattle has its space and satellite operations, including command and control technology and ground operations, and all image production.
Its customers include companies that need real-time economic data, developed from high-resolution photos taken by the satellites and analyzed by BlackSky’s Spectra software platform that makes use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
For example, a satellite launched earlier this month sent a photo of the docks at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The photo is impressive for its high detail — a resolution of less than one meter — but the data analysis goes deeper, enabling a survey of the economic activity at the port.
Using that photo, BlackSky can count the container stacks in the yard and the vehicles awaiting export in the car terminal. It can identify the carrier ships berthed at the port and determine which cargo holds are actively being loaded.
With this kind of capability, BlackSky unsurprisingly also supplies intelligence capabilities to the U.S. national security services.
BlackSky is under contract with the Department of Defense’s National Reconnaissance Office, an arm of the U.S. intelligence community. It offers a secure version of Spectra to intelligence analysts working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
BlackSky’s initial target is to have a constellation of 16 satellites in orbit, enabling a return visit to any spot on the earth’s surface roughly every hour. The company launched its fifth and sixth satellites this month and plans to launch six more by the end of March.
Its satellites are built in Tukwila at a facility operated by LeoStella, which is a manufacturing joint venture between BlackSky and French defense multinational Thales.
The LeoStella facility employs about 45 people, delivering two satellites per month, and its workforce is expected to grow about 10% this year.
BlackSky was originally a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, which also offered “satellite rideshares,” brokering rocket-launch services to small satellite makers.
After the rideshare business was sold this year to Japanese companies Mitsui and Yamasa Corp., BlackSky is now an independent company.
A spokesperson declined to provide information about the number of customers BlackSky has, its revenue and the anticipated capital expenditure needed to get the full 16-satellite constellation into orbit.