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

SEATTLE — Spaceflight Industries announced June 21 that it has raised $18 million that the company will use to acquire a software company to support its plans for a constellation of Earth imaging satellites.

Spaceflight said the Series B round, which the company expects to eventually grow to as much as $25 million, will be used in part to acquire OpenWhere, a Herndon, Virginia-based company that develops software to collect, process and analyze geospatial data.

Spaceflight plans to use the OpenWhere software as part of BlackSky, its planned constellation of Earth imaging satellites. “Not only does it further differentiate BlackSky, it vastly expands the community of who can benefit from monitoring our planet in near real time to all commercial industries, academics, nonprofit organizations and government agencies,” Jason Andrews, chief executive of Spaceflight Industries, said in a statement.

The acquisition also gives Seattle-based Spaceflight an office near Washington, DC. “It’s a welcomed additional location for us to continue to work our east coast government and commercial business opportunities,” said Rakesh Narasimhan, general manager of BlackSky. “This location will become a Spaceflight Industries office and it will contain staff supporting both the BlackSky and Spaceflight lines of business.”

Leading the new investment round was San Francisco-based venture capital fund Mithril Capital Management, co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook. Ajay Royan, Mithril’s other co-founder and the fund’s managing general partner, will join Spaceflight’s board of directors.

“By helping partners to easily put advanced hardware in the sky and bring pixels back to earth, and by making space data intuitive to access, Spaceflight has built a breakthrough platform that will take our worldview to the next level,” Royan said in a statement, calling Spaceflight “the lynchpin of the emerging space ecosystem.”

Several other earlier investors in Spaceflight, including RRE Ventures, Vulcan Capital and Razor’s Edge Ventures, also joined in the Series B round. The company has raised $53.5 million to date.

Andrews, in an interview during the NewSpace 2016 conference here, said money raised in this round not used for the OpenWhere acquisition would go towards general company operations. He added Spaceflight plans to start working soon on a much larger Series C round to finance the development of the full BlackSky constellation.

BlackSky will ultimately have 60 satellites in low Earth orbit, providing high-resolution imagery with faster revisit times and at lower costs than competing systems. The first BlackSky satellite will launch in August, Andrews said. The company expects to have six satellites in orbit by 2017 and the full constellation by 2020.

With the OpenWhere software, Andrews said, Spaceflight will be able combine imagery from the BlackSky constellation with other data sets to meet the needs of various customers. “We are really trying to change how we look at the planet,” he said at the conference. “We think that’s going to be as big as Facebook or Google.”

Besides its development of BlackSky, Spaceflight is best known for brokering rides for satellites as secondary payloads. That includes working with other companies developing remote sensing satellite systems: Spaceflight arranged the launch of 12 Dove satellites developed by San Francisco-based Planet, formerly Planet Labs, that launched on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle June 22.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...