COLORADO SPRINGS – Amid strong demand for satellite imagery, BlackSky is looking to expand its national security and defense operations, CEO Brian O’Toole told SpaceNews.
“The Ministry of Defense is interested in tactical ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] from space,’ he said. “There are quite a few opportunities there. ISR is clearly becoming a priority and commercial capabilities come into play.”
BlackSky is one of the few Earth observation companies that: business has risen since the Russian invasion of Ukraine when the US government turned to commercial suppliers for imagery to track down Russian forces and support humanitarian relief efforts in war-torn parts of Ukraine.
O’Toole said the company is providing free footage to news media and humanitarian organizations.
The US government sees the benefits of commercial opportunities for high-resolution images and regular reviews, he said. It is also the realization that “there are only a few of us who can do what we are doing now.”
“We’re showing that it’s easy for all our partners to log into our platform, point to a satellite and click and perform tasks, and get an image back with analytics in 90 minutes,” said O’Toole.
To help grow its defense and intelligence business, BlackSky announced on April 4 that it has formed a strategic advisory group led by former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and retired Vice Admiral of the Navy Joseph Kernan, former associate director for military affairs at the CIA and retired army general John Mulholland, and former Space Force chief architect, retired Air Force Colonel Michael Dickey.
BlackSky last October pointed to former deputy director of national intelligence Sue Gordon to serve on its board of directors.
The company recently added two more satellites to its constellation, for a total of 14. Electron rocket from Rocket Lab on April 2, the two satellites launched from New Zealand.
O’Toole said he expects BlackSky to be one of the companies selected by the National Reconnaissance Office as primary providers of commercial imagery to the US intelligence community. This year, the NRO selects suppliers for its Electro-Optical Commercial Layer contract.
“We’re also working on the military and space forces and others,” he said. Some military organizations are interested in services that combine traditional image collection with on-demand satellite tasks.
The BlackSky constellation remains at 14 for now, although a few more launches are planned with Rocket Lab later this year.
Today’s satellites have a resolution of less than one meter. Next year, BlackSky plans to launch a new generation that will drop image resolution to 35 inches at the bottom — looking straight down — and 50 inches on average, O’Toole said. This satellite will also have infrared sensors, intersatellite links and onboard data processing powered by artificial intelligence.
BlackSky became a . in September Listed Company after close a merger right away special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. BlackSky and others aerospace companies that went public in the past year through mergers with SPACs have experienced sharp drops in share prices and, therefore, their valuations.
O’Toole maintained that the SPAC deal benefited BlackSky as it provided the capital to fund its next-generation satellites and other projects. “And it has also given us the growth capital to expand our sales force and product teams.”
He said the SPAC method of listing a company “is well suited to companies like ours.”
Markets have soured on SPACs in general, but not all companies are created equal, he said. “We happen to be a company with revenue and customers. There were many SPACs that were at a very early stage. We got caught up in that, but it has achieved what we wanted.”