WASHINGTON — BlackSky, a supplier of satellite imagery and space-based intelligence, won a $2 million U.S. defense contract to provide data to train AI models.

The contract was awarded by the defense contractor Axient on behalf of the Air Force Research Laboratory. Axient in September 2023 won a contract from AFRL worth up to $25 million for space experiments.

Axient will use BlackSky’s satellite imagery and data analytics platform to support studies and technology demonstrations focused on tracking moving objects from space. 

Specifically, these studies will “collect and annotate thousands of BlackSky multi-frame burst images to train moving target artificial intelligence models for commercial motion imagery,” BlackSky said March 4 in a news release. 

Multi-frame burst images taken by satellites refer to sequences of consecutive video frames captured by satellites within a short timeframe, typically seconds. Using this data, the AFRL experiments will seek to identify moving objects from space more accurately and recognize patterns of life. 

“This foundational work is expected to help decrease the time to develop moving target algorithms for other related customer-led initiatives,” said Patrick O’Neil, BlackSky chief technology officer.

Burst imagery used for movement detection

Multi-frame burst images are collected in rapid succession during a single satellite pass over an area of interest. “With multiple view angles captured within a matter of seconds, burst imagery can be used to generate 3D volumetric products and very accurate movement-oriented detection analytics,” the company said. 

The contract includes access to BlackSky’s Spectra satellite-tasking and analytics platform. 

AFRL, located at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, awarded Axient, based in Huntsville, Alabama, a $25 million task order in September 2023 for “integrated space experiments” to be performed over the next three years. Axient awarded BlackSky a $2 million task order in November 2023. 

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...