Rocket Lab has announced a deal for five future missions with BlackSky, a US satellite imagery and data company.

The deal will see BlackSky send up nine satellites over five of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket launches in 2021.

Launch services provider Spaceflight is said to be managing the integration and launch services for BlackSky as part of the deal. Eight 130 kilogram satellites will be launched over four missions on the Electron vehicle this year and are set to join four satellites currently in orbit. The deal allows for two dedicated Electron missions in the last quarter of the year. 

“Rocket Lab simplifies the path to orbit. Dedicated launch on Electron is the key enabler for us to rapidly develop our constellation on our own terms which is hugely important in unlocking more analytic and data-driven opportunities for our customers,” said BlackSky's Brian O’Toole.

Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said the deal allows BlackSky to “focus on what matters most to their mission – providing real-time, actionable data to decision-makers on the ground when they need it most”. 

BlackSky confirmed in February it was merging with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Osprey Technology Acquisition Corporation in a deal said to bring US$450 million in cash to BlackSky and set its estimated market value at US$1.5 billion.

Rocket Lab announced earlier this month that it also was merging with a SPAC, Vector Acquisition Corporation, that valued Rocket Lab at US$4.1bn.

BlackSky is set to list on the New York Stock Exchange, with Rocket Lab set for the NASDAQ.

Latest launch

A Rocket Lab customer since 2019, BlackSky had one of its satellites on the rideshare mission “They Go Up So Fast” that launched earlier this week. The launch attracted criticism for including a satellite for the US Army’s Space and Missile Defence Command (SMDC) called “Gunsmoke-J”.

The payload is a prototype for a satellite that, according to a US Department of Defense public document, “uses emerging advanced electronics to allow the use of dedicated intelligence assets to provide tactically actionable targeting data to warfighters on a responsive and persistent timeline”.

Beck has previously publicly said his company would avoid military contracts that potentially directly harm people.

An open letter sent to prime minister Jacinda Ardern from the Peace Foundation International Affairs and Disarmament Committee called attention to the payload and said it was possible it violated New Zealand’s nuclear-free laws.

A protest in Mahia close to the launch site was reported on Wednesday. 

*This story was edited to reflect the correct day of the protest.