Beyond satellites: Now that it’s gone public, BlackSky will boldly go into new markets

·4 min read
Black Sky executives at NYSE
BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole (center) and other company executives celebrate ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange. (Black Sky Photo)

As a private venture, BlackSky made a name for itself providing satellite imagery and data analysis primarily for military and government customers. But now that it’s an independent, publicly traded company, the satellite subsidiary that got its start in Seattle is setting its sights higher.

“This is a thrilling outcome for the company,” said BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole, who rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange today. “This is going to gross over $280 million in capital to fund our growth plan. We’re in the early stages here of an exciting new space sector.”

As a result of BlackSky’s business combination with Osprey Technology Acquisition Corp. — which had been in the works for months and took full effect last week — the company’s shares are being traded on the NYSE under the ticker symbol BKSY.

It’s the latest in a string of space-related deals involving special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs. (Other notable space-SPAC deals have involved Virgin Galactic, Astra and Rocket Lab), It’s also the latest chapter for a venture that started out in 2013 as a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, and broke out on its own last year after the umbrella company’s other subsidiary, Spaceflight Inc., was acquired by a Japanese joint venture.

BlackSky’s holdings include a constellation of Earth-observation satellites and a half-interest (along with Thales Alenia Space) in LeoStella, a satellite manufacturing venture headquartered in Tukwila, Wash. But O’Toole is fond of saying that BlackSky isn’t just a satellite company:

“It’s not about satellite imagery,” he told GeekWire in an interview last week. “It’s really about real-time global intelligence, and enabling access to our capabilities and data for a whole new group of customers that have not had that before.”

For years, BlackSky has been providing real-time geospatial intelligence to government and military customers through its AI-based Spectra software platform. Just last month, the company won a contract modification to provide the National Reconnaissance Office with a monthly subscription to on-demand satellite imagery.

O’Toole said the capital unlocked by the Osprey SPAC deal will make it possible to offer Spectra services for a wider range of markets.

“We’ve had an incredible amount of incoming interest from the commercial sector,” he said. “In the second quarter, we had over 30 different enterprises approach us. These range from global construction companies to global energy companies, to insurance operators. It goes on and on — there’s just a pent-up demand for easy access to this type of data.”

O’Toole said the fresh infusion of SPAC funding will go toward expanding BlackSky’s sales force, improving the Spectra platform — and beefing up the BlackSky Global constellation, which currently has seven satellites in low Earth orbit.

Spectra is already speeding up the pace of satellite intelligence gathering. “We’re seeing that we can get customers on our platform very quickly, within a day,” he said. “And then they’re able to task our satellites and get data in under 90 minutes.”

Brian O'Toole
Brian O’Toole is the CEO of BlackSky, which has offices in Seattle and Herndon, Va. (BlackSky Photo)

After working through a launch glitch that led to the loss of two satellites in May, Rocket Lab is due to launch as many as six more of BlackSky’s satellites by the end of the year. That will boost the fleet to more than a dozen spacecraft, O’Toole noted.

“That’s a very significant milestone for us, because it gets us the ability to deliver revisit performance at about once an hour throughout the day,” he explained.

In just a few years’ time, the constellation is due to reach its full complement of 30 satellites, including third-generation spacecraft that will be equipped with higher-resolution cameras and short-wave infrared night vision. And O’Toole vows that the upgrades will continue.

Although BlackSky’s center of gravity has shifted from Seattle to Herndon, Va., over the years, O’Toole says the newly public company will maintain a strong corporate presence in the Pacific Northwest. More than 50 of the company’s 200-plus employees are based in Seattle.

“Even after this merger, we still maintain 50% ownership in LeoStella, down in Tukwila, and they are building our satellites and will continue to do so. This transaction helps them as well — it gives them clear visibility into orders from us out of that facility,” O’Toole said. “So, yeah, I see Seattle remaining for a long time the source of the space-centric expertise we have in the company.”

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