Japanese Joint Venture Plans to Acquire Seattle-Based Spaceflight

The sale will allow parent company Spaceflight Industries to focus accelerating the growth of its BlackSky subsidiary

February 11, 2020By Bill Conroy

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The sale will allow parent company Spaceflight Industries to focus accelerating the growth of its BlackSky subsidiary

Spaceflight Inc., which manages rocket launches and provides payload rideshare services for orbital missions, is being acquired by a joint venture of Mitsui & Co. Ltd. and Yamasa Co. Ltd. ― both Japanese companies.

The terms of the share-purchase agreement were not released, but the deal is subject to review by the U.S. Committee on foreign Investment, which assesses the national security implications of foreign direct investment in the United States, according to Spaceflight Industries ― the current parent company of Spaceflight Inc. as well as satellite-constellation operator BlackSky. The regulatory review is expected to take several months, with final approval of the deal projected for the second quarter of this year.

Once approved, Spaceflight Inc. will continue to operate as a U.S.-based company under the joint-venture ownership of Mitsui and Yamasa. Spaceflight’s headquarters will remain in Seattle and Curt Blake will continue to serve as Spaceflight’s chief executive officer and president.

“Spaceflight [Inc.] has established itself as an influential company in the space industry, making rideshare a credible and reliable option for small-satellite launches,” says Tomohiro Musha, general manager of aerospace systems and rail leasing division in Mitsui & Co. “The acquisition of an industry leader is an optimal way for Mitsui & Co. to enter the space industry and expand its business by offering greater access for customers considering utilizing services related to space.”

Spaceflight Inc. has launched 271 satellites via 29 rocket launches to date, making it the leading satellite-rideshare service provider. Spaceflight Industries plans to use the capital from the sale of its Spaceflight Inc. subsidiary to speed the growth of BlackSky, which is focused on the geospatial intelligence business.

BlackSky by year’s end expects to have in low-Earth orbit 12 satellites of a planned 60-satellite Earth-observation constellation that will fly over most of Earth’s major cities and economic zones dozens of times daily. The constellation collects near real-time imaging data from space that is combined with live news and social media feeds and sold as a service to organizations seeking to make informed decisions about global operations and assets.

Another Spaceflight Industries affiliate, Tukwila-based small-satellite manufacturer LeoStella, has a contract to produce 20 satellites for BlackSky. LeoStella’s 22,000-square-foot production facility in Tukwila, which opened in February 2019 and employs some 40 people, can currently manufacture 30 to 40 satellites a year. The company is a joint venture between Thales Alenia Space (Europe’s largest satellite maker) and Spaceflight Industries, which has raised more than $250 million in capital to date.

“The acquisition [of Spaceflight Inc.] provides an opportunity to be a part of a high-growth international portfolio, which offers deep expertise and investment opportunities,” says Spaceflight’s Blake. “Spaceflight remains committed to our mission of providing comprehensive launch services that enable routine, reliable and affordable access to space.”

Spaceflight Industries, Spaceflight Inc., BlackSky and LeoStella are part of an emerging space-business sector in Washington state that has an estimated $1.8 billion economic impact and supports some 6,200 jobs, according to a study by the Puget Sound Regional Council. Investment bank Morgan Stanley projects that today’s $350 billion global space economy could generate revenue of $1.1 trillion by 2040.