Categories
GeekWire

BlackSky will add night vision to its satellites

BlackSky’s satellites are already producing frequently updated, high-resolution views of planet Earth — but now the company says its next-generation spacecraft will kick things up a notch.

There’ll even be night vision.

BlackSky, which has offices in Seattle and Herndon, Va., announced today that its Gen-3 Global satellites will provide pictures with 50-centimeter spatial resolution, as well as short-wave infrared sensor readings.

That level of resolution for visual imagery will be twice as sharp as the current Gen-2 satellites’ 1-meter resolution. And the short-wave infrared imaging system should be able to deliver night-vision views as well as imagery that cuts through obscuring smoke and haze.

BlackSky CEO Brian O’Toole told me the upgrades will continue as his company builds out its satellite constellation in low Earth orbit. “This isn’t like the old days, when you have to have some big announcement every five years,” he said. “This is just going to be expected. Customers will expect that behind Gen-3 is going to be Gen-4.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

SpaceX launches Starlink and BlackSky satellites

After weeks of delay, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent up 57 more satellites for its Starlink broadband internet constellation, with two BlackSky planet-watching satellites hitching a ride.

The launch was originally scheduled for June, but had to be put off several times due to technical concerns, weather delays and range schedule conflicts. This time around, the countdown proceeded smoothly to liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:12 a.m. ET Aug. 7 (10:12 p.m. PT Aug. 6).

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
Cosmic Space

Satellites swarm to look at Beirut blast aftermath

The aftermath of this week’s Beirut chemical explosion has been covered in triplicate by U.S. satellite imaging systems — with other nations’ satellites, drones and on-the-scene videos adding perspective.

All that imagery helped outside observers quickly verify that the killing blast was caused by the blow-up of a years-old stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which is typically used as fertilizer but can be turned into dangerous explosives.

The Aug. 4 explosion killed at least 100 people, injured thousands more, sent out a shock wave that damaged buildings up to 6 miles away, and generated a seismic shock that was felt as far away as Cyprus.

BlackSky is due to have two more Global satellites launched as soon as this week, as rideshare payloads on a SpaceX Falcon 9 under an arrangement with Seattle’s Spaceflight Inc. They’re among the first satellites built for BlackSky by Tukwila, Wash.-based LeoStella, a joint venture between Spaceflight Industries and Europe’s Thales Alenia Space. The deployment timetable calls for 16 BlackSky satellites to be on duty in low Earth orbit by early next year.

Two of BlackSky’s competitors, Planet and Maxar Technologies, also shared before-and-after views of the Beirut blast scene today:

BlackSky, Maxar Technologies and Planet have all won study contracts from the National Reconnaissance Office, under a program aimed at assessing the companies’ ability to provide imagery for the defense and intelligence communities.

NRO says it will start a new round of commercial imagery procurements in late 2020, with an eye toward satisfying government requirements into the 2023 time frame. So the efforts to capture over Beirut isn’t merely meant to satisfy curiosity; they serve to demonstrate what the companies can do for national defense.

In addition to the satellite pictures from those three U.S. companies, there’s a surfeit of sobering imagery from other satellites and drones. Here’s a sampling:

To contribute online to Beirut relief efforts, check out the Lebanese Red Cross and Impact Lebanon on Just Giving.

This report was published on Cosmic Log. Accept no substitutes.

Categories
GeekWire

BlackSky will track COVID-19 impact for Air Force

BlackSky, a satellite data venture with offices in Seattle, says it’s won a U.S. Air Force contract to track the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on military interests worldwide.

The contract calls for BlackSky to monitor U.S. military bases overseas and assess the status of supply chains, using its AI-enabled Spectra geospatial data analysis platform.

Spectra can analyze satellite data as well as news feeds and social media postings to identify anomalies worth following up on with additional imagery or investigation. The data inputs include imagery from BlackSky’s own satellite constellation as well as from other sources.

BlackSky has benefited from Pentagon contracts for years, but this latest project focuses on impacts related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The approach was demonstrated for GeekWire back in May, when BlackSky executives showed how satellite images could be compared to detect an unusual rise or fall in, say, the number of cars parked in a lot outside a given installation. That could point to places where social distancing is decreasing or increasing.

Spectra can also analyze activity at airports, loading docks, maintenance facilities, fuel storage depots and other key installations to assess how supply chains might be affected by pandemic-related bottlenecks.

Such analyses can be compared with reported infection numbers coming from local governments, and integrated into computer models to predict the risk to deployed Air Force personnel and the surrounding communities.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

LeoStella delivers BlackSky Earth-viewing satellites

Tukwila, Wash.-based LeoStella cast a spotlight today on the delivery of its first two built-from-scratch satellites for the BlackSky Earth-watching constellation ⁠— with their launch on a SpaceX rocket coming up soon.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Japanese firms finish acquisition of Spaceflight

SpaceX SSO-A launch
One of Spaceflight’s most notable acccomplishments was the launch of 64 satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December 2018. (SpaceX Photo)

Japan’s Mitsui & Co., working in partnership with Yamasa Co. Ltd., has completed the acquisition of Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. from its parent company, Spaceflight Industries.

Today’s announcement of the transaction’s completion follows up on February’s announcement of the sale for an undisclosed amount. Spaceflight Industries’ other subsidiary, BlackSky Global, isn’t part of the transaction and will continue to operate as a privately held company with offices in Seattle and Herndon, Va.

Spaceflight Industries also has a 50% share in LeoStella, a satellite manufacturing company based in Tukwila, Wash. The other half of that joint venture is owned by Thales Alenia Space, a French-Italian aerospace company.

Mitsui and Yamasa will similarly split ownership of Spaceflight Inc. as a 50-50 joint venture, operating independently with its headquarters remaining in Seattle.

The sale brings a parting of the ways for Spaceflight Inc., which focuses on arranging launch services for rideshare satellites; and BlackSky, which is building a satellite constellation for Earth observation and provides geospatial data analysis tools.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Rules for satellite imaging get streamlined

Global satellites
An artist’s conception shows BlackSky’s Global satellites in orbit. (BlackSky Illustration)

The Commerce Department has released a new set of rules aimed at making the procedure for licensing Earth-imaging satellite systems more in tune with what’s technically possible and commercially available on the global market.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How BlackSky uses AI to analyze satellite views

Color-coded satellite view
A color-coded satellite map of an area in northern Virginia shows that parking lots around Dulles Town Center are relatively open, as noted by the oval-shaped patchwork of green blocks just above the center of the image. But other parking lots, noted in shades of orange and red, are relatively busy. Such geospatial information can serve as a measure of economic activity and traffic congestion. (BlackSky Image)

How do you know when a region’s economy has recovered from the coronavirus pandemic? You could wait for the verdict from the unemployment figures, gather reports from individual businesses and scan news reports about business reopeniings. You could count how many cars show up in the parking lots of factories and shopping centers. Or you could just let Spectra do all of that.

Seattle-based BlackSky’s Spectra geospatial data platform can combine satellite imagery and other data inputs to generate insights that are greater than the sum of their parts. It’ll even use AI-enabled image recognition to count the cars.

As the COVID-19 crisis progresses, Spectra is learning how to recognize the early signs of recovery, or the telltale signs of a rebound.

“That’s what BlackSky is really all about: How can we inform you that something is happening, or something is going to happen, before you hear it from anywhere else?” said Patrick O’Neil, director of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Spaceflight Industries to sell launch business

SpaceX SSO-A launch
One of Spaceflight Industries’ most notable projects was the launch of 64 satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December 2018. (SpaceX Photo)

Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries says it has signed a deal to sell Spaceflight Inc., its satellite rideshare launch subsidiary, to one of Japan’s largest trading companies.

The definitive share purchase agreement, reached with Mitsui & Co. Ltd. in partnership with Yamasa Co. Ltd., will have to be reviewed over the next few months by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to evaluate national security aspects of the acquisition — but the companies expect the deal to be approved by midyear.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Spaceflight Industries said it would leverage the capital from the Spaceflight Inc. deal to accelerate the growth of BlackSky, its geospatial intelligence business. BlackSky already has four of its own Earth-observing satellites in orbit and plans to add eight more to the constellation this year. Four of those satellites are due to be sent into orbit on the maiden launch of India’s SSLV rocket.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

BlackSky wins $50M loan for satellite infrastructure

Global satellites
An artist’s conception shows BlackSky’s Global satellites in orbit. (BlackSky Illustration)

BlackSky, a geospatial intelligence company with offices in Seattle and Virginia, says it’s secured a $50 million loan from the Intelsat satellite powerhouse to boost its nascent Earth observation constellation.

In a news release issued today, the companies say the transaction will result in a novel strategic relationship that pairs Earth observation with a global communications infrastructure.

BlackSky, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, said it will use the new capital to build on its existing assets and alliances. Over time, BlackSky aims to incorporate access to Intelsat’s communications infrastructure to deliver its imaging and intelligence services around the globe.

“BlackSky is enabling a whole new level of global intelligence by leveraging the economics of small satellites so that our customers will always be the first to know,” Brian O’Toole, president and CEO of BlackSky, said in a statement.

Get the full story on GeekWire.