Locally based BlackSky Global, with backers including Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, hopes to reduce costs and open new markets for high-resolution satellite images, serving customers ranging from governments to businesses and individuals.
A Seattle-based company plans to launch 60 satellites into space over the next few years to provide high-resolution satellite images to customers ranging from governments to businesses and individuals.
BlackSky Global said Tuesday it expects to launch the first six satellites next year.
“Once the first satellites are up, we will start building more satellites and deploy them approximately 20 a year starting in 2017,” said Jason Andrews, founder and CEO of BlackSky Global’s parent company, Spaceflight Industries.
Peter Wegner, chief technology officer of BlackSky Global and former director of the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, said the company’s imaging is “going to be about a tenth of the price of current satellite imagery.”
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“It’s going to open up new markets to organizations and entities that really haven’t been able to afford regular access to satellite imagery,” he said.
Applications for satellite imagery include monitoring border security, tracking illegal environmental activity, urban planning, forest management and monitoring shipping activity, among many other uses.
Wegner said the first two satellites will serve to test out the company’s systems.
“Those are going to be systems we learn from,” said Wegner. “We’re going to test out our design, we’re going to test out the payload, we’ll test out our ground architecture (for receiving the satellite signals).”
Though small, these satellites aren’t cheap — Andrews said they cost about $5 million. They also don’t last indefinitely.
“Each of the satellites has a three-year design life, so it’ll be on orbit for three years, then we’ll replace it,” said Andrews.
Spaceflight Industries has raised about $28 million from investors, including Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, and some of that money is funding BlackSky Global, said Wegner.
The large number of satellites planned by BlackSky should allow it to get satellite images to consumers much quicker and cheaper than other companies with fewer satellites can, the executives said.
“Once our constellation is deployed, the idea is you could get that picture back in 90 minutes and it should be very affordable, like under $100, ideally,” said Andrews.
Andrews said BlackSky Global aims to begin demonstration work for various customers early next year.
In the meantime, Wegner said the company already is talking with potential clients.
“We are in discussions with a number of existing customers for satellite imagery,” he said.
BlackSky Global currently has about 12 employees, with Spaceflight Industries collectively employing 70, and both are growing, Wegner said.
So is the satellite imaging industry, he said. Although there already is “a pretty robust satellite imagery market,” entrepreneurial operations such as BlackSky are expanding what can be done, “and it’s really going to open up new markets, even down to the consumer level.”