Planet Labs, an Earth-imaging satellite company based in California, contracted SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program launch services to deploy 6 SkySat satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The program offers companies the option to launch small satellites to space destinations by sharing a Falcon 9 ride with a larger payload for a lower cost. In June, SpaceX launched three out of six SkySat satellites [16-18] during a Starlink mission.
Starlink is a SpaceX subsidiary project that aims to offer worldwide broadband internet. SpaceX is in the process of deploying a constellation of thousands of small internet-beaming satellites that launch in clusters of 60 atop a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX is scheduled to deploy another trio of SkySats [19-21] on an upcoming Starlink mission. The SkySats are expected to hitch-a-ride alongside 57 Starlink satellites next week. A flight-proven Falcon 9 is scheduled to deploy the satellites on Tuesday, August 18 (10:30 a.m. EDT) from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. [Date is subject to change.]
Planet’s SkySats are Earth-Imaging satellites, which take high-resolution photographs of Earth’s surface. The company aims to operate 21 Skysats before the end of this year. SkySats operate at an altitude of 400 kilometers. The satellites recently took aerial photographs of the aftermath involving the devastating explosion that took place in Beirut, Lebanon (pictured below). Images captured from space aid governments and first responders to analyze terrain for rescue efforts, or additional threats.
When SpaceX launches the next trio of SkySats, Planet will be capable to offer better quality images of Earth to compete in the national security market. The company stated SkySats will operate in LEO Sun-Synchronous Orbits. “SkySats 16-18 were placed into an orbital plane inclined at 53 degrees and they will soon be joined by SkySats 19-21 in a second 53-degree plane, expanding the world’s largest fleet of high-resolution satellites in orbit to 21 SkySats and doubling our revisit opportunities – up to 12 times per day,” Planet Labs wrote in a press release, “The newly increased spatial resolution combined with this industry leading rapid revisit capabilities will provide critical intelligence to customers and organizations when they need it most.”
Planet’s New Rapid Revisit Satellite Platform