BlackSky to begin transition to higher-resolution imaging satellites in 2023
WASHINGTON — Satellite imagery and data analytics provider BlackSky over the past 30 days launched six satellites on three different missions. With 12 satellites currently in orbit, the company plans to add two or four more next year before it transitions to a higher-resolution spacecraft in 2023, said BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole.
Reaching 12 satellites was a key goal for the company following the loss of two spacecraft in May in a failed Rocket Lab mission.
O’Toole told SpaceNews that launches will slow down next year, with only two to four satellites likely to be added to the constellation in 2022. The company will continue to use Rocket Lab and SpaceX for launch services.
BlackSky had originally planned to start deploying its new Gen-3 satellites in 2022 but is now targeting the first launch in 2023 . Gen-3 satellites will produce images with 50-centimeter resolution, compared to the current Gen-2 version that provide one-meter imagery.
The long-term goal is a constellation of 30 satellites, said O’Toole.
O’Toole said the imagery market currently is “supply constrained” as there is a growing demand for data and insights especially from U.S. government and intelligence agencies.
Some of the company’s current satellites can capture images of the same location 15 times a day, which helps track economic trends and monitor areas of interest to national security agencies.
BlackSky, which entered the market seven years ago, is competing against established players like Planet and faces emerging competitors in the remote-sensing industry. “It’s still somewhat of a supply constrained market in my view” and there is room for many competitors, said O’Toole. “We’re seeing strong demand” for rapid-revisit imagery and data analytics.
O’Toole said the company last week submitted a bid for a National Reconnaissance Office imagery contract that the agency plans to award in mid-2022 to multiple commercial providers.
The NRO, which currently buys most of its commercial satellite imagery from Maxar, is expected to select new providers to diversify its supplier base.
“We feel we’re really well positioned to get a good portion of that contract,” said O’Toole.
The NRO said one of the products it wants to buy is “taskable” imagery. That means the customer takes the reins of a commercial satellite to shoot imagery of any given location at any time. “They want to be able to control when and where they get information,” said O’Toole. “So our ability to put the joystick, so to speak, in the hands of our customers is really important.”
BlackSky also expects to increase sales of data analytics services to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency which recently announced plans to rely more on commercial providers.
The U.S. Space Force and the Space Development Agency are potential customers as well, but the industry is still waiting for a “demand signal” from military buyers, O’Toole said. “We believe there’s tremendous partnership opportunities with these new agencies to accelerate what they want to do.”