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Seattle’s Space Needle rises on a space mission patch

What could be more fitting than to put Seattle’s Space Needle on the patch for an actual space mission?

Even though this particular mission is due to be launched half a world away, there’s more than one Seattle connection to the Rocket Lab mission that’s due for liftoff as early as April 1.

The payloads for the launch from Rocket Lab’s base on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula are two satellites built by a Seattle-area manufacturer, LeoStella, for BlackSky’s Earth-observing constellation. LeoStella is a joint venture co-owned by Thales Alenia Space, a French-Italian venture; and BlackSky, which is based in the Washington, D.C., area but has a Seattle office.

Most significantly, preparations for the launch were handled by Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc., which specializes in making the arrangements for putting small satellites like BlackSky’s spacecraft into orbit.

On the patch for the mission, whimsically dubbed “Without Mission a Beat,” the Space Needle rises to the right of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle.

“It’s a great patch, no?” Jodi Sorensen, Spaceflight Inc.’s vice president of marketing, said in a tweet. “The Needle’s a nod to @SpaceflightInc, and we love it!”

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BlackSky picks up the pace for updating satellite imagery

BlackSky says it has set a new standard for refreshing its satellite views of spots on Earth after adding six spacecraft to its Earth observation constellation in a month.

The company, which has offices in Seattle as well as in Herndon, Va., reported reaching a peak of 15 hourly picture-taking sessions per day over certain locations. BlackSky said that represents the highest satellite revisit rate in the world.

“This is an incredible achievement for BlackSky and the industry,” BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole said today in a news release. “Our ability to rapidly launch, deploy, and commission on-orbit capacity provides customers with confidence that they will have access to the insights they need to support critical operations.”

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Rocket Lab launches two satellites for BlackSky

BlackSky’s Earth-watching constellation has grown by two satellites, thanks to Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s logistical help.

Rocket Lab’s previous BlackSky launch ended in failure back in May, but the launch team traced the problem to a computer glitch that was corrected. This week’s mission, nicknamed “Love at First Insight,” went much more smoothly. It was the 22nd Rocket Lab launch, and the fifth since the start of the year.

The two-stage rocket rose from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 2:38 p.m. local time Nov. 18 (5:48 p.m. PT Nov. 17), successfully deploying BlackSky’s eighth and ninth satellite about an hour later.

“Perfect flight by the team,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted.

“Another great launch in the books,” Spaceflight Inc., which handled mission management and integration services for BlackSky’s satellites, said in a tweet.

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BlackSky strikes a satellite data deal with NASA

BlackSky Technology says it has secured a five-year, sole-source blanket purchase agreement with NASA for the use of high-revisit satellite imaging data in support of the space agency’s Earth observation research.

The agreement announced today is part of NASA’s Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program, or CSDAP. It will give researchers access to frequently updated high-resolution imagery via BlackSky’s Spectra AI geospatial data platform.

Spectra AI makes use of imagery from BlackSky’s on-demand satellite constellation as well as other sources to provide global real-time environmental monitoring. BlackSky’s satellites are manufactured in Tukwila, Wash., by LeoStella, the Virginia-based company’s joint venture with Thales Alenia Space.

BlackSky traces its lineage back to Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, which sold off Spaceflight Inc. for an undisclosed price in 2020 and adopted the BlackSky corporate brand. In September, BlackSky went public through a blank-check merger with Osprey Technology Acquisition Corp. that provided $283 million in cash. More than 50 of BlackSky’s 200-plus employees are based in the Seattle area.

In a news release, BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole said the CSDAP award “reflects yet another valuable point of alignment between government demand and BlackSky’s commercially available real-time, global intelligence products.”

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BlackSky will boldly go into the satellite data frontier

As a private venture, BlackSky made a name for itself providing satellite imagery and data analysis primarily for military and government customers. But now that it’s an independent, publicly traded company, the satellite subsidiary that got its start in Seattle is setting its sights higher.

“This is a thrilling outcome for the company,” said BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole, who rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange today. “This is going to gross over $280 million in capital to fund our growth plan. We’re in the early stages here of an exciting new space sector.”

As a result of BlackSky’s business combination with Osprey Technology Acquisition Corp. — which had been in the works for months and took full effect last week — the company’s shares are being traded on the NYSE under the ticker symbol BKSY.

It’s the latest in a string of space-related deals involving special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs. (Other notable space-SPAC deals have involved Virgin GalacticAstra and Rocket Lab), It’s also the latest chapter for a venture that started out in 2013 as a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, and broke out on its own last year after the umbrella company’s other subsidiary, Spaceflight Inc., was acquired by a Japanese joint venture.

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BlackSky glides into its first day of public trading

BlackSky, the geospatial data analysis company that got its start in Seattle, eased into its first day of public trading on the New York Stock Exchange today, clinching a blank-check merger deal that unlocked about $283 million in capital.

The business combination with Osprey Technology Acquisition Corp. — a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC — was approved by Osprey’s shareholders on Sept. 8. BlackSky is now trading under the BKSY ticker symbol for common stock and BKSY.W for BlackSky warrants.

“Our team is excited that we have reached this major milestone on our first-to-know mission to lead a new era of real-time global intelligence,” BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole said in a news release.

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How LeoStella uses software to track satellite hardware

TUKWILA, Wash. — LeoStella’s satellite factory has tons of hardware spread out over 22,000 square feet of space, but the secret ingredient for its manufacturing process may well be the software.

“What you see here is the physical layout,” Brian Rider, LeoStella’s chief technology officer, told us during a tour of the satellite venture’s headquarters in Tukwila, just south of Seattle. “But what’s a little bit harder to see is the digital process behind it.”

LeoStella, a joint venture co-owned by BlackSky Holdings and Thales Alenia Space, relies on a workflow management system that tracks satellite components all the way through design and manufacturing. Employees use a digital dashboard to make sure that every part is in its proper place at the proper time.

“It’s truly not just a paperless process, but it’s a digital, intelligent manufacturing approach,” Rider explained. “We can record all of our manufacturing details. We can do statistical process control and understand where we have areas where we can make our systems less restrictive, or more restrictive to improve product quality.”

The facility itself is designed to maximize efficiency for turning out up to 40 satellites per year, including two satellites per month for BlackSky’s Earth-observation constellation. The interior of a standard-issue building in a suburban business park was extensively remodeled when LeoStella took over the space in 2018.

“Not many companies have the chance to take a step back and start from a clean sheet of paper, and really think about all the aspects that make satellite production possible and efficient and affordable,” Rider said. “That’s what we did at LeoStella.”

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Two BlackSky satellites lost due to launch failure

Two satellites for BlackSky’s Earth observation constellation were lost today when the second stage of Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle suffered an anomaly, just minutes after liftoff from New Zealand.

Rocket Lab said the mission failure was under investigation. “The issue occurred shortly after stage two ignition,” the company said in a tweet.

The live stream for launch showed what appeared to be a successful launch at 11:11 p.m. New Zealand time (4:11 a.m. PT), followed by a stage separation that went according to plan. However, it looked as if the second stage’s rocket engine shut down and failed to push the satellites to orbit.

The satellites were built by Tukwila, Wash.-based LeoStella for BlackSky, which splits its staff between offices in Seattle and Herndon, Va. Pre-launch logistics for the mission were handled by Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.

“We are deeply sorry to our customers Spaceflight Inc. and BlackSky for the loss of their payloads,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “We understand the monumental effort that goes into every spacecraft and we feel their loss and disappointment.”

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How BlackSky builds its intelligence network

Satellites for BlackSky’s constellation of Earth-watching spacecraft may be launched from as far away as New Zealand, but their path to orbit features prominent stops in the Seattle area.

BlackSky’s Global satellites are designed and built at LeoStella’s factory in Tukwila, Wash., not far from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. handled the pre-launch logistics for May 15’s liftoff of two satellites atop a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle. And BlackSky itself splits its staff between Herndon, Va., and the company’s original home base in Seattle.

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BlackSky’s latest satellite goes to work on Day One

That didn’t take long: BlackSky says the latest Earth observation satellite in its growing constellation delivered its first imagery less than a day after it was launched into orbit from New Zealand on March 22.

Once the BlackSky 7 satellite was deployed from the kick stage on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle, it took mere hours for BlackSky’s team to check out the satellite and downlink pictures. Those pictures were then analyzed by BlackSky’s Spectra AI suite of machine language algorithms to identify points of interest.

For example, one of the images could be used to track progress on Perth’s Waterbank urban development site in Australia — a billion-dollar project that’s generated its share of controversy over the years.

BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole said the 24-hour turnaround demonstrates how quickly BlackSky’s geospatial data platform can respond to global developments.