Planet Labs Announces 100 Satellite Fleet in LEO

Flock 1 Release from ISS Credit: NASA

Flock 1 Release from ISS
Credit: NASA

Coming on the heels of releasing its “Flock 1” of 28 Earth Observation cubesats into Low Earth Orbit from the International Space Station, Planet Labs announced today that it has confirmed launch orders for 100 more of its tiny spacecraft to be carried out over the next year.  The announcement does not specify which boosters will carry out the launches, only that they will be “from the USA and Russia.”

The announcement from Planet Labs comes at an interesting time, as the disappearance of a Boeing 777 carrying 239 passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has drawn attention to the fact that much of the planet is still not under (publicly disclosed) surveillance to the extent many might have thought was the case.

While we hopefully may never see another instance similar to the current one, there seems to be little doubt that national governments are going to be paying a lot more attention to the services of companies such as Planet Labs for search and rescue efforts, as well as those offered by machine-to-machine satellite constellations which conduct routine electronic signal monitoring via short bursts at regular intervals. Though the latter was perhaps slow to develop, the business case for both systems is only going to get stronger.

In the immediate matter of covering vast expanses of ocean, there is considerable potential for private users as well.  For instance, consider the concerns of those following blue water, ocean crossing sailing vessels, where the ability to track the progress of friends or family far from civilization can be radically enhanced not just by the pinging AIS (automatic identification systems) already in use, but by daily satellite photographs as well.

The full press release is after the break

PLANET LABS SET TO LAUNCH LARGEST SATELLITE FLEET IN HISTORY

100 Satellite Constellation to Image the Entire Earth’s Surface Every 24 Hours

San Francisco, CA, March 17, 2014 – Planet Labs today announced that it has confirmed launches for more than 100 satellites over the next 12 months. The satellites will launch on rockets from the USA and Russia. This constitutes the largest constellation of satellites manifested in history. These new launches will build on Planet Labs first 28 satellites, Flock 1, which were launched in January.

This constellation will allow Planet Labs to image the whole earth every 24 hours. “We are imaging the planet to save the planet,” said Will Marshall, cofounder 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.”

“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.”

This announcement comes on the heels of a $52 million Series B round of financing for Planet Labs in December led by Yuri Milner. Previous investors in the company 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.

About Planet Labs Inc.
Planet Labs Inc. is a purpose-driven space-information company based in San Francisco, California, Earth. The company operates Earth imaging satellites to image the entire planet at an unprecedented frequency –collecting data and insight to encourage global action. Planet Labs aims to provide universal access to information about the changing planet to enable both commercial and humanitarian applications

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