Japanese companies agree to buy Spaceflight rideshare launch broker

Artist’s concept of a “Sherpa” multi-satellite adapter structure in orbit. Credit: Spaceflight

Spaceflight Industries said this week it is selling its rideshare launch business — known as Spaceflight — to a joint venture owned by two Japanese companies.

The launch broker arranges rides to space for CubeSats and other small satellite, aggregating multiple payloads for deployment on a range of rockets, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9, the Russian Soyuz, Northrop Grumman’s Antares, India’s PSLV and Rocket Lab’s Electron.

Spaceflight Industries is selling the Spaceflight launch broker to Mitsui & Co. Ltd., a Japanese conglomerate with divisions in energy, machinery, chemicals, food and fashion, in partnership with Yamasa Co. Ltd. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Income from the sale will allow Virginia-based Spaceflight Industries to ramp up the growth of BlackSky, a company subsidiary aiming to deploy a fleet of commercial Earth-imaging microsatellites, officials said.

Spaceflight, headquartered in Seattle, will remain a U.S.-based company and operate independently under joint 50/50 ownership by Mitsui and Yamasa. Curt Blake, Spaceflight’s president and CEO, will remain head of the rideshare launch business and report to a newly-formed board of directors comprised of a majority of U.S.-based members.

“This is an exciting and monumental development for Spaceflight Industries, especially for our launch business,” Blake said in a statement. “The acquisition provides an opportunity to be a part of a high-growth international portfolio, which offers deep expertise and investment opportunities. Spaceflight remains committed to our mission of providing comprehensive launch services that enable routine, reliable and affordable access to space.

“Our biggest priority, as always, is ensuring all of our customers are fully supported, including both commercial entities and U.S. government agencies,” Blake said. “We’re currently taking steps to establish the necessary infrastructure and enhanced services to meet their needs.”

The sale of Spaceflight to the Japanese firms is pending approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency federal government committee charged with examining national security implications of certain transactions involving foreign companies.

The companies expect the sale to be approved by federal regulators in the second quarter of 2020.

“Spaceflight has established itself as an influential company in the space industry, making rideshare a credible and reliable option for smallsat launches,” Tomohiro Musha, general manager of aerospace systems & rail leasing division in Mitsui & Co., said in a statement. “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 has arranged the launch of 271 satellites on 29 different missions, including payloads for the U.S. military.

In a blog post after the announcement of the sale of Spaceflight on Tuesday, Blake wrote that Spaceflight will establish a subsidiary with a U.S. board of directors to focus on the company’s U.S. government launch business.

“We are confident that this deal will not interfere with that in any capacity,” Blake wrote. “In fact, we expect it to significantly enhance those relationships.

“Our name, our team and our contracts all remain the same,” he wrote.

“So why did we do this? The biggest, most obvious benefit is growth,” Blake wrote. “The commercial space industry is evolving rapidly, and we are 100 percent committed to providing the most innovative and cost-effective launch options for our customers.

“Now we’re able to reinvest directly in our core launch business and have the financial and operational support from a large corporation to further expand our services, our technology capabilities, and the partnerships we bring to market. We can’t wait to share more in the coming months!”

Spaceflight says it has more than 10 missions booked for launch in 2020, beginning in March with a rideshare launch on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Also next month is a multi-payload flight aboard an Arianespace Vega rocket, including satellites with rides brokered by Spaceflight.

“Even with all these advancements, there is still so much more we want to do,” Blake wrote. “Now with Mitsui’s backing, we’ll be able to expand even further, pushing the industry to new levels, and making launch even simpler and more affordable for our customers.”

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.