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Spaceflight Industries just raised $25 million, led by Mithril

TechCrunch TechCrunch 21/06/2016 Connie Loizos

Spaceflight Industries, a startup whose overarching goal is providing affordable, high-resolution images of earth, just raised $25 million in Series B funding led by Mithril Capital Management.

Previous investors RRE Venture Capital, Vulcan Capital and Razor’s Edge Ventures also joined the round; it brings total funding for the seven-year-old, Seattle-based company to $53.5 million.

Spaceflight joins a small but growing number of outfits that is turning geospatial data culled from satellite imagery into actionable, and lucrative, insights. Ambitiously, it has a three-pronged business strategy, too.

First, working with companies like Planet Labs, Spire, and Planetary Resources, among others, Spaceflight helps organize these customers’ payloads, ensuring that their satellites get into space as seamlessly as possible. (It essentially arranges for ride-share launches for dozens of small satellites at a time.)

According to the company, it has already organized the launch of 81 satellites, including by buying excess capacity on SpaceX rockets, along with Soyuz, PSLV, Dnepr, and Antares rockets. And Spaceflight has another 135 satellites scheduled to take space flights through 2018 via partnerships with a wide range of companies, Virgin Galactic and Orbital ATK among them.

Though an ancillary business, Spaceflight takes the business seriously enough that it purchased an entire SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and plans to expand its services beyond ride-share launches, beginning late next year.

But there’s more. In addition to getting other companies’ satellites into space, Spaceflight’s much bigger business — called BlackSky —  involves selling the satellite imagery of its customers to anyone willing to pay for it. A government might want to see whether an opposing army is beyond a hill, for example, or a humanitarian organization might want to measure the effects of deforestation. Unlike Orbital Insight, which uses machine learning to make sense of satellite imagery (then publishes its findings for customers), BlackSky largely wants to provide easy access to the images at unprecedented price points.

All of BlackSky’s prices are listed on its site (and all below $100 per image). Using its new funding, the company has also paid an undisclosed amount to acquire a Herndon, Va.-based company called OpenWhere, whose web-scale software platform allows customers to rapidly request, receive and interact with satellite imagery via the internet or even a mobile phone.

That sounds like enough for a young company to chew off, but there’s even more.

Specifically, though Spaceflight is already providing its customers data from numerous satellite companies (not all of which they share publicly), the startup is planning to dive into the satellite business more directly with a planned constellation of 60 imaging satellites of its own. If all goes as planned, its satellites should be built and in space by 2020, cover 95 percent of the Earth’s population, and pass over major economic areas and large cities between up to a whopping 70 times a day. The reason, says Ajay Royan of Mithril, who has joined Spaceflight’s board, is to supplement its partners’ data.

Royan likens the company’s vision to an “almost Bloomberg for space,” in fact. “You log in. You might say, ‘Show me all mountains above 3,000 feet,’ and ‘show me all available imagery over last 30 years,’ from its satellite company partners. And you can opt in to buy all these sources of data and Bloomberg is the platform that sits in the middle.”

Asked about the scope of Spaceflight’s ambitions, Royan say he isn’t concerned by its different but related business lines. “If they weren’t executing I’d be worried,” he says.

For now, at least, he sounds much more excited instead.

Spaceflight employs 130 people currently. About 100 of those  employees are in Seattle, with another 30 in the former OpenWhere office in Virginia.

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