BlackSky wins $50M in financing from Intelsat for Earth-watching constellation

BlackSky Global satellites
An artist’s conception shows BlackSky’s Global satellites in orbit. (BlackSky Illustration)

BlackSky, a geospatial intelligence company with offices in Seattle and Virginia, says it’s secured a $50 million loan from the Intelsat satellite powerhouse to boost its nascent Earth observation constellation.

In a news release issued today, the companies say the transaction will result in a novel strategic relationship that pairs Earth observation with a global communications infrastructure.

BlackSky, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, said it will use the new capital to build on its existing assets and alliances. Over time, BlackSky aims to incorporate access to Intelsat’s communications infrastructure to deliver its imaging and intelligence services around the globe.

“BlackSky is enabling a whole new level of global intelligence by leveraging the economics of small satellites so that our customers will always be the first to know,” Brian O’Toole, president and CEO of BlackSky, said in a statement.

“It takes a lot of expertise, engineering and capital to make smallsats viable; BlackSky is the first company to overcome these challenges with proven economies of scale,” O’Toole said. “This latest partnership is a vote of confidence in our ability to deliver industry-leading insights to our customers from one of the biggest players in the market.”

BlackSky has already had four satellites launched for its Earth-watching Global constellation. Four more are due to be go into orbit on India’s new Small Satellite Launch Vehicle early next year. Another eight are expected to follow by early 2021.

The Global satellites are built by LeoStella, a joint venture between Spaceflight Industries and Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, at a factory south of Seattle in Tukwila.

BlackSky blends the data from Global and other constellations with information from other sources, including news reports and social media, to offer real-time intelligence services to its customers in government and industry.

Its partners range from the National Reconnaissance Office to the HawkEye 360 radio-sensing constellation. In 2017, BlackSky won a $16.4 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory to deliver a cloud-based geospatial intelligence platform optimized for government agencies.

“BlackSky is well-positioned to be a significant player in the expanding Earth observation sector, which we believe benefits from accelerating trends including cloud computing, change detection, predictive analytics and machine learning,” Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said. “We believe a significant number of commercial and government sector customers will increasingly rely on geospatial intelligence.”

Spengler said he expected the $50 million senior secured loan to be used to enhance BlackSky’s current infrastructure “and will serve as a springboard for a commercial alliance with Intelsat and our Intelsat General government subsidiary.”

BlackSky is playing catch-up in an Earth observation market that has other significant players, including Maxar Technologies (through its DigitalGlobe subsidiary) and Planet. Like BlackSky, those two companies are working on next-generation satellite services for the National Reconnaissance Office. The NRO is due to start a new round of commercial imagery procurements in a year.

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