Rocket Lab Electron launch (Source: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab will launch at least 8 more BlackSky imaging satellites this year

Geospatial intelligence provider BlackSky signed a deal with Rocket Lab to launch nine of its imaging satellites across five Electron missions this year.  The deal is the largest number of satellites BlackSky is committing to a single launch provider to date and includes the successful launch of the most recent Rocket Lab’s “They Go Up So Fast” rideshare mission last week.

Eight of BlackSky’s 130 kilogram GEN-2 satellites will be launched across four dedicated missions on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle through 2021 as a demonstration of “rapidly-acquired launch services,” according to a Rocket Lab press release, with the launch being brokered by initial BlackSky parent Spaceflight; the two companies are now separate entities.

“We’re thrilled to be providing dedicated and reliable access to orbit for Spaceflight and its customer BlackSky. Electron puts our customers in control of their launch schedule and orbital deployment parameters, giving them more certainty in crucial business growth phases,” said Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck. “By securing streamlined space access on Electron, BlackSky can focus on what matters most to their mission – providing real-time, actionable data to decision makers on the ground when they need it most.” 

The BlackSky/Rocket Lab agreement includes options for another two dedicated Electron missions in Q4 2021, which would add another 4 satellites tot the total. Rocket Lab has launched three BlackSky satellites to date, the mission last week and two satellites in 2019, with a total of seven satellites in orbit to date; the others were launched on PSLV and Falcon 9 rideshare missions.  The company plans to have an operational constellation of 30 spacecraft, providing one-hour average dawn-to-dusk imaging revisits and 90 minute average delivery times for its customers.  By 2023, BlackSky intends to provide 50 centimeter resolution and short-wave infrared (SWIR) for low light and nighttime imaging on its Gen-3 satellites.

BlackSky’s acceleration of launch plans comes due in part to the infusion of money it will receive from its $450 million SPAC financial deal expected to close in July 2021, making it a publicly traded company on New York Stock Exchange.  The deal also benefits Rocket Lab’s SPAC deal expected to close in Q2 2021 since Rocket Lab will be able to demonstrate the ability to sign contracts and (presumably) launch commercial satellites in short order.

The BlackSky launch deal also suggests Rocket Lab will be ramping up to launching at least twice per month at some point in 2021, with customer missions launched from the LC-1 complex in New Zealand and the new LC-2 pad at NASA’s Wallops Island in Virginia.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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