Skybox Signs Distribution Deal with Japan Space Imaging

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WASHINGTON — Satellite-imagery startup Skybox Imaging of Mountain View, Calif., has signed a multiyear agreement with Japan Space Imaging of Tokyo to bring high-resolution imagery to the Japanese market, the U.S. company said in a May 14 announcement.

The move marked the first publicly disclosed agreement between Skybox, which is planning a constellation of microsatellites providing imagery and full-motion video, and a non-U.S. partner. Industry officials have been closely watching Skybox with the belief that if the company is successful it may be a bellwether for other microsatellite companies.

The agreement is part of a long-term Skybox plan to build a global network of partners. The company is selling what it calls “SkyNodes,” remote ground stations around the world that allow its partners to directly task Skybox satellites, said Jessica Ballard, a company spokeswoman. The SkyNode software suite allows users to schedule image collection of a given swath or territory and to downlink imagery.

As part of the partnership, Japan Space Imaging will be the exclusive partner for distributing Skybox’s imagery and video in Japan, Ballard said. Japan Space Imaging also has tasking rights to the Skybox satellites when the craft are within view of its ground station.

“Skybox’s high-frequency, high-resolution imagery and the world’s first full motion commercial video from space will provide our customers the unique ability to have an on-demand view of their world,” Yoichi Kamiyama, Japan Space Imaging’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Japan Space Imaging, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp., expects to use the images for land monitoring, environmental monitoring, and disaster response, according to the release.   

“Skybox’s goal is to provide unprecedented insight into daily global activity and partnering with [Japan Space Imaging] is going to help us do just that,” Skybox Chief Executive Tom Ingersoll said in a statement.

The agreement is subject to approval by U.S. regulators.

Skybox is building two small satellites to provide imagery from low Earth orbit and plans a constellation of around 12 satellites. The initial satellites, SkySat-1 and SkySat-2, are expected to launch this year as secondary passengers aboard Russian-Ukrainian Dnepr rockets, with operations beginning shortly thereafter. 

In March, Ingersoll announced the company had raised $90 million from equity investors.

How many satellites ultimately will be built for Skybox — and whether they will stay in-house or be built by an outside contractor — will depend on the market’s reaction to the early spacecraft and Skybox’s business plan, Ingersoll said.