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BlackSky satellite
One of BlackSky’s Pathfinder satellites undergoes final integration. (Credit: BlackSky)

Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries is moving ahead on two fronts to build an online portal for satellite imagery: It has secured $18 million in new venture capital, and is acquiring a Virginia-based company called OpenWhere to create the software platform for distributing the images.

“It’s all about the democratization of data about the planet,” Jason Andrews, CEO of Spaceflight Industries, told GeekWire.

The current round of Series B financing is led by Mithril Capital Management, a San Francisco investment firm founded by Ajay Royan and PayPal veteran Peter Thiel. (Yes, that Peter Thiel.) Other contributors to the round include previous investors RRE Venture Capital; Razor’s Edge Ventures; and Vulcan Capital, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s investment arm.

By the time the round is complete, Spaceflight Industries expects to raise as much as $25 million. That would bring cumulative investment in the privately held company to $53.5 million.

spaceflight

Not all of the new investment is going toward the OpenWhere acquisition, but Andrews said “we couldn’t go ahead and close without the funding.” He declined to say how much Spaceflight Industries paid to acquire the startup, which has 29 employees in Herndon, Va.

Andrews said OpenWhere will help develop the geospatial data platform for Spaceflight Industries’ BlackSky subsidiary.

BlackSky is working on a fleet of satellites that’s meant to deliver 1-meter-resolution imagery 90 minutes after it’s acquired, for $90 per image. Low price and quick turnaround are two big pieces of BlackSky’s business strategy. “The user experience is the third piece of that, and that’s where OpenWhere comes in,” Andrews said.

In a news release issued today, Andrews said “customers are looking for a modern and intuitive system that they can operate with ease to receive high-quality images, and OpenWhere’s platform offers a compelling user experience that re-imagines interaction with satellite imaging.”

Andrews said BlackSky is on schedule to deliver two demonstration satellites for launch into sun-synchronous orbits this year. The user interface for ordering and receiving imagery via a computer or mobile device should be ready on the same timetable, he said.

Jason Andrews, Spaceflight Industries
Jason Andrews

Four fully operational satellites are to be launched next year. By 2020, BlackSky plans to have a 60-satellite constellation.in low Earth orbit, providing images for a wide range of applications. The customers could include farmers who want to monitor their crops, emergency agencies looking out for fires or floods, conservationists who want to track endangered species, or everyday folks with more casual applications in mind.

“It could be a truck driver who just wants to see if the road is clear, or a rancher who’s looking for his cattle,” Andrews said.

In April, BlackSky announced an agreement with the U.N. Institute for Training and Research to explore how satellite imagery can help with humanitarian relief, peacekeeping missions, resource management, responses to climate change and other global challenges.

Andrews said Spaceflight Industries employs about 130 people, including the staff from OpenWhere. In addition to BlackSky, Spaceflight Industries has other subsidiary operations that deal with launch logistics and ground-station networking.

Royan, who is Mithril’s managing general partner, is joining Spaceflight Industries’ board of directors in connection with the latest financing round.

Spaceflight Industries’ Jason Andrews will speak at this week’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle. Check back for more NewSpace coverage from GeekWire.

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