Space Commerce

Planets Labs Plans to Launch Over 100 Smallsats Within a Year

By Marc Boucher
March 17, 2014
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Planets Labs Plans to Launch Over 100 Smallsats Within a Year
Planet Labs satellite launched from the ISS.
Planet Labs

After raising $52 million in December and launching 28 satellites as part of their initial Flock 1 constellation in January, Planet Labs today announced it has confirmed launches for over 100 of their Dove satellites in the next year.
According to Planet Labs the constellation will allow them to image the whole Earth in 24 hours. The satellites will be launched on rockets from the U.S. and Russia.

As well Planet Labs says this “constitutes the largest constellation of satellites manifested in history.” While true, context is important here. These are very small satellites in the form factor of CubeSats weighing approximately 6 kilograms and can deployed much cheaper than other constellations and as secondary payloads on launches or, as with their previous satellites, from the International Space Station. In comparison the Iridium NEXT constellation of 66 communication satellites set to begin launching in 2015 each weigh approximately 800kg.

“We are imaging the planet to save the planet,” said Will Marshall, co- founder of Planet Labs. “Imaging the Earth at this frequency will help us to measure things from deforestation, to improving agricultural yield, to detecting overfishing. Our mission is to create information people need to help life on the planet.”

Planet Labs says their constellation would be suited to several industries including agriculture, energy, forestry, infrastructure, mapping, natural resources and is actively seeking customers.

Applications for the constellation include change detection, custom maps and basemaps, persistent monitoring and planning and logistics.

“Getting 100 satellites on the launch manifest is a major milestone in the new space industry,” said Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and board member of Planet Labs and SpaceX. “The small form factor requires less space on the rocket, allowing for more flexibility for launch configurations. And a constellation of 100 satellites is unprecedented.”

The last round of Series B funding was led by Yuri Milner. Their previous investors include Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures (OATV), Capricorn Investment Group, Founders Fund Angel, Data Collective, First Round Capital, and Innovation Endeavors.

Planet Labs is not alone in their trying to capture a segment of the Earth observation market using a fleet of small satellites. Competition includes another Bay Area company, Skybox Imaging.

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.