First BlackSky operational satellite ready for launch

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WASHINGTON — Spaceflight Industries said March 6 that the first operational satellite for its BlackSky Earth imaging constellation is now complete and awaiting launch later this year.

The 55-kilogram Global-1 satellite is the first of four satellites, each capable of producing imagery at a resolution of one meter, that Spaceflight plans to launch in the next year on U.S. and foreign vehicles, although the company did not disclose specific launch plans. The Global satellites build upon a demonstration satellite, Pathfinder, launched in September 2016.

Global-1
The BlackSky Global-1 satellite. Credit: Spaceflight Industries

“This is an important milestone for Spaceflight Industries and for our BlackSky geospatial information business,” said Jason Andrews, chairman and CEO of Spaceflight, in a statement. “Qualifying the Global generation of spacecraft paves the way for mass production and launch of our full constellation, as well as achieving our vision of deploying a high revisit rate constellation in the near future.”

BlackSky currently offers customers access to a “virtual constellation” of satellites by accessing imagery from other commercial satellites. Users can acquire images from those satellites and combine that imagery with other data sources.

BlackSky’s long-term goal, though, is to operate its own satellite constellation, using a series of satellites that can provide high-resolution imagery at low costs.

“We are continuing to advance the boundaries of what can be achieved in terms of price point, capability and form factor, and these improvements ultimately help to make space more accessible for a broader set of business applications,” said Nick Merski, vice president of space operations at Spaceflight Industries, in a statement.

In September 2017, BlackSky announced a partnership with Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio to manufacture its satellite constellation. That agreement included Thales Alenia and Telespazio taking a minority stake in Spaceflight as well as a joint venture between Thales Alena and Spaceflight to produce later Global smallsats.

Even with the outside investment, BlackSky plans to boostrap development of the full 60-satellite constellation. A company spokesperson said that, after the launch of the first four in the next year, BlackSky will launch 20 more satellites by 2020. The revenues provided by those satellites will be used to finance the rest of the constellation.