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US firm main beneficiary of ISRO launch, puts 88 satellites into orbit

The biggest beneficiary of ISRO’s launch of a record 104 satellites with a single rocket was a US firm formed seven years ago by former NASA scientists.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2017 17:56 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Screen grab of the website of Planet, which put 88 satellites into space during ISRO’s record launch of 104 satellites on a PSLV rocket on Wednesday.
Screen grab of the website of Planet, which put 88 satellites into space during ISRO’s record launch of 104 satellites on a PSLV rocket on Wednesday.(Courtesy Planet Labs)

One of the main beneficiaries of the Indian space agency’s launch of a record 104 satellites with a single rocket was a US firm that operates the largest privately owned constellation of Earth-imaging satellites.

Planet, which was formed in 2010 by a team of former NASA scientists, accounted for 88 of the satellites placed in orbit by the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on Wednesday.

A post on the company’s website said the successful launch of its Dove satellites by Isro had helped it reach its mission of being able “to image all of Earth’s landmass every day”.

Each Dove satellite has a 200 mbps downlink speed and is capable of collecting imagery of more than 2 million sq km per day. The Dove’s main camera captures images at 3 to 5 metres resolution as the satellite completes an orbit in roughly 90 minutes.

Image of the Dove satellite. (Courtesy Planet Labs)

“Tonight is the culmination of a huge effort over the past five years. In 2011 we set ourselves the audacious mission of imaging the entire Earth land area every day,” Robbie Schingler, Planet’s co-founder and chief strategy officer, wrote.

“We calculated that it would take between 100-150 satellites to achieve this, and we started building them. After today’s launch, Planet operates 144 satellites in orbit. We have reached our milestone,” he added.

The data from these satellites will allow “humanity would be able to have a significant positive impact on many of the world’s greatest challenges”, Planet said.

Read | ISRO’s record of innovation: Bullock cart to launching 180 foreign satellites

Planet, which started as a small team of physicists and engineers working in a garage, built and placed into orbit its first Dove satellite two years ago. The firm says the data from its satellites can be used to measure agricultural yields, monitor natural resources and help first responders during natural disasters.

The firm uses commodity consumer electronics to build its satellites at drastically lower costs. The Dove satellites, it says, act “like a line scanner for the planet” and are launched in “flocks”. The data gathered by the satellites is stored on a cloud-based platform.

Planet miniaturised its satellites and built the world’s second largest private network of ground stations and created an automated mission control system before Wednesday’s launch.

Planet launched its 15th flock of Dove satellites on Wednesday, and the second batch to go into space on India’s PSLV rocket. The firm expects to commission all the 88 satellites for normal imaging operations in three months.

Earlier this month, Planet concluded an agreement to acquire Terra Bella, a Google subsidiary providing commercial high-resolution satellite imagery, including the SkySat constellation of satellites. Under the deal, Google will enter a multi-year contract to purchase Earth-imaging data from Planet.

Read | ISRO launches 104 satellites: Achievements remarkable but it must tame ‘naughty boy’ GSLV