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BlackSky satellite constellation
An artist’s conception shows BlackSky’s satellite constellation in low Earth orbit. (Spaceflight Industries Illustration)

Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries has forged a partnership with a French-Italian venture known as the Space Alliance, formed by Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, to accelerate plans for a 60-satellite constellation of Earth-observing satellites.

The partnership involves a minority investment in Spaceflight Industries, the creation of an industrial joint venture between Thales Alenia and Spaceflight in the United States to produce satellites, and an agreement between Telespazio and Spaceflight’s BlackSky business line for marketing satellite data.

“This partnership with two leaders in the European space industry accelerates our BlackSky business plan by funding our constellation, minimizing our constellation production risk, and reducing our time to market within key market segments,” Jason Andrews, chairman and CEO of Spaceflight Industries, said today in a news release.

Jean-Loïc Galle, president and CEO of Thales Alenia, said the partnership reflects his company’s “new-space transformation,” while Telespazio CEO Luigi Pasquali said his company’s cooperative agreement with BlackSky will give both companies “a strong market boost to access leading markets in the geoinformation domain.”

The agreements, signed today in Paris, still have to meet with the required regulatory approvals. Rakesh Narasimhan, Spaceflight’s president and chief operating officer, told GeekWire that the details of Space Alliance’s minority investment will depend on how the approval process goes forward.

“There’s a range of investment there,” he said.

Spaceflight partnership
Telespazio’s Luigi Pasquali, Thales Alenia Space’s Jean-Loïc Galle and Spaceflight Industries’ Jason Andrews shake hands during a signing ceremony in Paris for their business partnership agreement. (Spaceflight Industries Photo)

The location of the Spaceflight-Thales Alenia joint venture also is still to be determined, Narasimhan said. However, he noted that Spaceflight is already building satellites at its Westlake facility in Seattle and acknowledged that Seattle is in the running for the scaled-up satellite production facility.

“It’s a great day for Seattle, a great day for new space, a great day for satellites generally,” he said.

BlackSky is aiming to get its 60 satellites into low Earth orbit by 2020 to beef up its existing offerings of multimedia-linked satellite imagery. Just last month, Spaceflight said BlackSky would provide a geospatial intelligence platform for the U.S. Air Force under the terms of a $16.4 million contract.

A prototype BlackSky Pathfinder satellite was launched a year ago on an Indian PSLV rocket and successfully put through its paces. The first four commercial BlackSky Global satellites, known internally as Block 2, are slated to go into orbit next year, Narasimhan said.

BlackSky is one of several commercial efforts aiming to capitalize on the market for quick-turnaround Earth imagery and other geospatial data. Other ventures include Planet (formerly known as Planet Labs), Spire and PlanetIQ.

Potential applications include responding to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, monitoring agricultural crops, tracking maritime traffic and providing customized weather forecasts.

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