HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Earth observation company BlackSky will launch new imaging satellites in 2023 and one of them will be used exclusively by the U.S. Army for tests and experiments. 

The Gen-3 satellite will produce images with 50-centimeter resolution, compared to current Gen-2 satellites that deliver one-meter imagery. “We will operate the satellite but the Army will use it. They’ll assess the capabilities and figure out how to integrate it with their operations,” said BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole.

O’Toole spoke with SpaceNews Aug. 10 following the release of the company’s second-quarter earnings report. He said the program with the Army, known as “tactical geoint,” is an important piece of the company’s strategy to win more government contracts. 

BlackSky, Maxar Technologies and Planet Labs won 10-year contracts from the National Reconnaissance Office to provide satellite imagery for U.S. intelligence, defense and federal civil agencies.

O’Toole said the Army has indicated it plans to use commercial imagery services in addition to what it gets from the NRO.  The tactical geoint program was initiated by the Defense Innovation Unit, a Pentagon organization that works with commercial companies.

Once the Gen-3 satellites are operational, Army users will be able to task one and downlink imagery to existing remote ground terminals and to a new ground station known as TITAN, short for tactical intelligence targeting access node designed to analyze data from space, aerial and terrestrial sensors. 

O’Toole said BlackSky hopes the experiments will lead to larger Army contracts for data as a service. 

The first launch of Gen-3 satellites is projected in mid-2023, he said. The first batch is being produced by BlackSky’s sister company LeoStella, based in Seattle, Washington.

These satellites will provide short wave infrared imaging, which can see in low light conditions, through smoke and haze.Army officials said they want to take advantage of commercial space services that provide imagery from low orbiting satellites that revisit the same spot multiple times a day.

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...