Recently, a San Francisco-based startup named Planet Labs launched 88 satellites that are capable of taking images of the earth’s surface. Planet Labs, has had this goal of being able to photograph and monitor the surface of the entire earth on a daily basis.
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The satellites were sent up aboard a rocket that was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation. Over the next three months, the satellites will be snapping images of the world.
The reason why Planet can fit so many satellites in a single rocket is because the spacecrafts aren’t very big. Usually, traditional satellites are about the size of a bus but Planet Labs uses nine-pound satellites that are only a bit larger than the size of a brick. Each satellite is a modified version of a Triple CubeSat, a type of standardized satellite which measures about only 4 inches wide and around 12 inches long. This keeps the costs low and enables the company to build a larger fleet, and therefore able to cover a larger surface area. The small size of these satellites allows Planet to have multiple spacecrafts on a launch at a time.
A photo of Key West taken by one of Planet’s Satellites. Source: Verge
With this new batch, the company now has a total of 144 satellites that are orbiting the earth. According to Planet previously, it would take around 100 to 150 of these satellites to be able to photograph the world’s entire surface and now it’s within that range. Mike Safyan, Planet’s director of launch and regulatory affairs, told the Verge that they now have the “the biggest fleet of Earth-imaging satellites … in human history.”
Unlike other satellites, Planet’s satellites aren’t used to take close-up images. Instead, they gather wide scale images as they pass over the same location at the same time everyday, and continually comparing the results. The other companies can purchase this data from Planet and use artificial intelligence to find relationships with data that is relevant to their respective industries.
The satellites were deployed about every 10 to 20 seconds. Planet will be spending the next few months spacing them all out in their orbits, before they can begin imaging Earth full time.