The announcement, which Spaceflight Industries CEO has dubbed a “major breakthrough,” is the latest development in the burgeoning analytics-driven Earth observation sector that’s increasingly relying on small satellites, higher resolution imagery, short revisit rates and data analytics to power the emergence of the so-called “insights economy.”
Spaceflight Industries launched geospatial imagery platform BlackSky in late 2016, and is now developing a constellation of 60 small, high-resolution observation satellites for the platform. The platform will utilize data from its own satellites, as well as data from third-party satellites, coupled with artificial intelligence driven analytics to deliver near-real-time information about the world to clients.
Spaceflight Industries hopes to have six of its satellites in orbit by the end of 2017, with the goal of having all 60 in position by 2020. Once completed, the BlackSky constellation will have frequent revisit rates for 95% of the world’s population, according to company claims.
The Space Alliance, a partnership between France-based industrial aerospace Thales and Italy-based Leonardo, is comprised of two joint ventures: Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio. Thales Alenia develops satellite systems, while Telespazio is a satellite service operator. The deal will help Thales Alenia and Telespazio gain marketshare in small satellite manufacturing.
Under the partnership, the three companies plan to offer a constellation of small satellites, deployed in conjunction with a smart ground segment for Earth observation. The companies will leverage massive, automated data and image processing in order to offer services at “very competitive” prices. The Space Alliance will gain a minority stake in Spaceflight Industries as a result of the deal.
Spaceflight Industries CEO Jason Andrews said the deal will help scale BlackSky, which recently won a $16.4 million contract with the US Air Force. “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,” Andrews said.
Thales Alenia Space and Spaceflight Industries will also create a new joint venture, based in the US, for the production of small satellites. “The result is a disruptive product, designed not only for traditional customers in the commercial observation market, but also to support the development of new vertical B2B markets, such as mining, energy, transport, finance, agriculture, industry and environment, and even B2C,” the companies said in a statement, underscoring the growing importance of small satellite and data analytics sectors for incumbents satellite systems providers in commercial space.
Jean-Loïc Galle, president and CEO of Thales Alenia Space, said the partnership reflects the company’s “new space transformation strategy” and aligns with the company’s “ultimate aim of becoming a major manufacturer of small observation satellites constellations featuring short revisit times, both in Europe and the United States.”
The partnership will need to be approved by regulatory bodies before being completed.