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Q&A with the CEO: Brian E. O’Toole Talks Transformation, Opportunity and Partnership

by | Nov 12, 2019

How is BlackSky transforming satellites, ISR and decision-making capabilities?

I think it starts with a fundamental question: What’s important to the customer? They want to be the first to know about things going on in their area of interest, which means they need timely access to information.

That’s where smallsats come in. Smallsats bring new, distinctive advantages: They offer more looks and faster access to information. They bring resiliency and assuredness that can can overcome the risks a few large satellites. Ultimately, the economics of smallsats offer a rapid tech refresh cycle unavailable with older exquisite satellites, which enables constant improvement of breadth and depth of information available to help our commercial or defense customers .  Faster and more accurate information helps make better decisions.


How is this different from traditional satellite imagery—and how is this industry evolving?

l compare it to what happened in the computing industry, moving from mainframes to PCs to smart phones. In the old days, one large, exquisite satellite cost $500 million to $1 billion and took five to six years to develop. It had high resolution, but low revisit rates. That’s pretty limiting.

Over the past four to five years we’ve seen that model disrupted. BlackSky changes the traditional satellite model in three ways:

1. The use of smallsats which makes high revisit rate economically feasible. This means we can revisit a given location several times per day, creating time and location diversity that is unmatchable by traditional providers. Additionally, the relatively low cost of putting smallsats into orbit means faster tech refresh cycles, so customers are always getting access to the latest technology.

2. The use of opensource telemetry and other data, which allows BlackSky to automatically task satellites to image a location that is likely to be important to a customer. This could be breaking news or social media or it could even be some proprietary data stream from a customer.

3. The use of our AI and ML analytics, allows BlackSky to immediately deliver answers to the questions customers care about: how many more vehicles are at a base? Have troops moved? Are there more ships in ports? What has been the pattern of activity over the last 12 hours? Our high revisit rates make automated pattern of life analysis a reality that is unmatched by others in the industry.


How does BlackSky go beyond monitoring?

Monitoring is an enabler to understanding what’s happening at the most strategically important locations and events around world. Combining that with data, we get into predictive and anticipatory analytics. Looking at behaviors and patterns over time, we can see when things are changing or when there are activities that are not normal at a particular site or location.

Our high revisit rates are important to the customer because it makes them the first to know about what’s important to them: It gives them early warning and early opportunities to address potential impacts to their business or mission. Ultimately, it’s not just about looking at pictures. High revisit rates and timeliness accelerate new applications and new market opportunities.  The innovations in this category will be spectacular.


What is driving demand for BlackSky’s services and how does this new partnership help BlackSky meet that demand?

The pace of business is increasing every day, as is the need for information that’s timely and relevant. Whether it’s for managing risk, looking at business opportunities or assessing threats—those are things you can’t afford to wait three to five days to do. The pace of commerce and the pace of decision-making, and what companies need to be competitive and mitigate their risks, is driving all of that.

Early detection enables you to mitigate damage, while speed to insight and predictive analytics enable a proactive stance. Ultimately, it’s about creating a sustainable competitive edge: We believe being the first to know is at the core of that advantage.

With Intelsat we’ve built a true partnership around these demands, expanding our services and reaching customers in new ways through their base and their communications infrastructure. They get insights into the opportunities in space-based intelligence. There’s an authentic alignment in innovation for both companies.


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