After the successful launch Monday of its seventh satellite, satellite imaging and data analysis firm BlackSky said it will accelerate deployment of its planned 30-satellite constellation. It expects to deliver capabilities this year that were originally planned for 2022.
Founded in 2014 as an offshoot of local company Spaceflight Industries, BlackSky has about 140 employees split evenly between its technology operations in Seattle and its corporate and sales headquarters in Herndon, Virginia.
BlackSky’s satellites can monitor any spot on the Earth’s surface and provide high-resolution images and data for both commercial and U.S. military customers. Its proprietary image analysis platform uses artificial intelligence algorithms to detect objects of interest and mine the data for economic, social and national security insights.
Last month, it announced plans to go public via a merger with Osprey Technology Acquisition which is a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) — also known as a “blank check” company, funded by investors before knowing what will be acquired.
BlackSky spokesperson Colleen Moffit said the acquisition is progressing and is expected to close in July.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed air travel and slammed the airplane business, commercial space ventures continue to be a boom segment of the aerospace industry. BlackSky currently has between 30 and 40 job openings companywide and said it expects to have 200 employees by the end of the year.
Its satellites, about the size of a college dorm refrigerator, are built at a facility south of Boeing Field in Tukwila by LeoStella, a joint venture between BlackSky and European satellite maker Thales Alenia Space.
LeoStella currently has just over 40 employees, with job openings in engineering, production, finance and other positions.
Spokesperson Megan Nielson said LeoStella has 16 satellites currently in production for BlackSky and will also manufacture at least two satellites for San Francisco-based Loft Orbital.
BlackSky’s original plan for a 60-satellite constellation was scaled back to 30 as more sophisticated imaging technology became available that could deliver the required coverage with fewer satellites. Moffit said BlackSky aims to have all 30 in orbit by 2024.
By 2023, those should include its recently announced third-generation satellites, which will deliver sharper images with resolution down to 50 centimeters and short-wave infrared capabilities for low light and nighttime imaging.
Monday’s satellite, put into orbit from a rocket pad in New Zealand, went up on one of the small, 60-foot-tall Electron space rockets built and launched by San Francisco-based Rocket Lab. The ride was brokered by Seattle-based Spaceflight, which arranges launches for multiple satellite makers on a variety of rockets.
BlackSky has contracts for four Rocket Lab missions that will take up eight satellites and will work with multiple launch providers to deliver the remainder of its constellation.