BlackSky satellites artist concept. Credit: BlackSky

WASHINGTON — Geospatial data provider BlackSky announced Nov. 12 it has secured a $50 million loan from global communications satellite operator Intelsat.

The senior secured loan will finance BlackSky’s infrastructure and product development for commercial and government customers, BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole told SpaceNews.

In addition to the financing deal, O’Toole said, BlackSky and Intelsat are establishing a commercial partnership to jointly develop data and imagery products to be distributed via Intelsat’s communications services.

BlackSky is part of Spaceflight Industries, based in Seattle. The company is in the process of expanding its constellation of small satellites that revisit a given location several times per day. Four 1-meter resolution imaging satellites are in service today and 20 more are in production. The new capital will help BlackSky meet its goal of deploying a 16-satellite constellation by 2021, said O’Toole.

The financing deal with Intelsat follows a 2018 joint venture between Spaceflight Industries and Thales Alenia for the manufacturing of BlackSky satellites.“Now that we have satellites in orbit, we’re focusing on delivering high quality content and information to customers anywhere in the world securely and reliably,” said O’Toole. He described the agreement with Intelsat as a first-of-its-kind partnership between an earth observation company and a satellite operator with a global communications infrastructure.

O’Toole said the loan is a vote of confidence in BlackSky’s business model which is based on ensuring clients are “the first to know about things going on in their area of interest.” BlackSky supplies high-revisit imagery but primarily sees itself as a provider of global monitoring and alerting services that combine pictures — taken by its own satellites and other companies’ satellites — with other sources of intelligence such as social media, news and other data feeds.

By providing financial support to BlackSky, Intelsat will gain access to new markets and customers that will be moving content through their networks, said O’Toole. “This is an emerging set of information and content that will create compelling services for the customers we’re both serving, especially in the government sector,” he said. BlackSky will be able to reach customers in new ways through the Intelsat communications infrastructure, O’Toole added. “And they get insights into the opportunities in space-based intelligence.”

BlackSky is one of three companies that the National Reconnaissance Office is considering as long-term suppliers of commercial imagery and data services for the U.S. Defense Department and the intelligence community. The NRO is expected to award procurement contracts sometime in 2020.

Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said in a news release Nov. 12 that BlackSky is “well-positioned to be a significant player in the expanding earth observation sector, which we believe benefits from trends such as monitoring climate change and commercial and government reliance on remote intelligence gathering.” Intelsat’s investment, he said, “will be used to fund enhancements to the current BlackSky infrastructure and will serve as a springboard for a commercial alliance with Intelsat and our Intelsat General government subsidiary.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...