BlackSky pathfinder
A BlackSky pathfinder spacecraft, the first in a planned constellation of 60 satellites, is prepared for launch later this year. Credit: BlackSky

 PARIS — Seattle-based BlackSky has announced a joint venture with Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio to build and operate a constellation of 60 fast-revisit, high-resolution Earth-observation satellites and establish a new smallsat manufacturing facility in the United States.

BlackSky CEO and founder Jason Andrews announced the partnership Sept. 15 during the closing day of Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here.

“We started this vision in 2013 and today we are announcing a strategic partnership with Thales Alenia Space and some financing that will get the critical mass going,” said Andrews.

“There is also a partnership with Telespazio to help distribute our analytics products and services internationally but with a focus on Europe,” he said.

BlackSky, part of Spaceflight Industries, is developing an artificial-intelligence analytics platform that would combine data from its upcoming constellation with streams coming from satellites of other operators to provide what they describe as real-time monitoring of the Earth. Andrews said the platform would draw information from social media and global news feeds to determine areas of interest and promptly respond to the anticipated demand for imagery.

“Our business model is slightly different than everybody up here,” Andrews said, referring to competitors already busy imaging the Earth from space. “We see them all as data suppliers to our platform. It’s really about integrating all those data sources to create a holistic picture of what’s going on and provide that service to our customers.”

For Telespazio of Italy, the partnership is a move towards becoming a bigger player in small satellite manufacturing.

“This partnership reflects the ‘new space’ transformation strategy being implemented by Thales Alenia Space, with the ultimate aim of becoming a major manufacturer of small observation satellite constellations featuring short revisit times, both in Europe and the United States,” Jean-Loïc Galle, president and chief executive officer of Thales Alenia Space, said in a press release.

BlackSky said the constellation’s aim is to enable hourly revisits of areas covering 95 percent of the Earth’s population.

A BlackSky spokesperson said the revisit time initially would be closer to 90 minutes.

The company launched its prototype spacecraft Pathfinder 1 last September. The craft can image an area of approximately 4.4 kilometers by 6.6 kilometers at 1-meter resolution.

BlackSky’s spokesperson said four satellites, dubbed Globals, that are set to form the backbone of the constellation, would be launched next year. The rest of the satellites will be manufactured as part of the joint venture. The company doesn’t have a fixed timeframe for the deployment of the full constellation, nor did it say when production would start.

In 2016, BlackSky acquired software and data analytics company OpenWhere. OpenWhere’s technology is a basis for BlackSky’s geospatial intelligence platform.

Tereza Pultarova is a London-based science and technology journalist and video producer, covering European space developments for SpaceNews. A native of the Czech Republic, she has a bachelors degree in journalism from the Charles University,...