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SpaceX SSO-A launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sends 64 satellites into space from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in December 2018 to kick off Spaceflight’s SSO-A satellite rideshare mission. (SpaceX Photo)

Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries has taken the spotlight in a research note from Morgan Stanley for disrupting the process of putting satellites in space — in a good way.

The note, sent to the investment firm’s clients last Friday by analyst Adam Jonas and his colleagues, pays tribute to Spaceflight Industries’ two business lines. One subsidiary, Spaceflight, arranges for payloads to share rides on other people’s rockets. The other subsidiary, BlackSky, offers satellite imagery from a range of spacecraft, soon to include its own Global constellation.

Spaceflight has played a part in the launch of 210 satellites over the course of the past six years, most notably last December when it bought out a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch to launch 64 satellites for dozens of customers. More typically, Spaceflight’s customers piggyback as secondary payloads.

“Historically, access to space has required purchasing an entire rocket,” Jonas, Armintas Sinkevicius and George Dailey wrote in their note. “Spaceflight is disrupting this model entirely, by offering ridesharing to satellites, as well as mission management / payload integration services.”

Spaceflight has contracts to launch about 100 satellites in 2019, including three rideshare missions that will make use of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicles.

One of those Electron launches will add to BlackSky’s Earth-imaging satellite constellation. Right now, BlackSky has two of its Global satellites in low Earth orbit, with as many as six more to be launched in 2019 and more than 10 satellites on the agenda for 2020.

BlackSky won a $16.4 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory in 2017 to develop a cloud-based geospatial intelligence platform suitable for government use, and the company says it plans to roll out a commercial satellite information service this year.

BlackSky is working to incorporate Amazon Ground Station, a mission control architecture based on Amazon Web Services, into its ecosystem for the Global satellite constellation.  Meanwhile, LeoStella, a joint venture between Spaceflight Industries and Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, is building more BlackSky Global satellites at its factory in Tukwila, Wash.

   
Thales Alenia Space and its partner in the French-Italian Space Alliance, Telespazio, are among the biggest investors in Spaceflight Industries. Vulcan Capital, the investment firm created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. is also among the venture’s backers.

That raises a question about Morgan Stanley’s note: How does the firm expect its clients to buy into Spaceflight Industries or other privately held space ventures?

“While the public investor feedback to our coverage of space has been ‘interesting, but un-investable,’ we have had tremendous interest from private space companies / investors,” Jonas and his colleagues write. “We expect industry / technological milestones and capital formation will up the ante starting in 2019.”

In other words, stay tuned … and watch the skies.

Hat tip to CNBC’s Michael Sheetz.

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