SkySat satellite depiction. Source: Space Systems Loral
Planet, an Earth-Imaging satellite company, announced today, May 13th, it contracted SpaceX’s Rideshare program launch services to deploy its next 6 SkySat satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The SpaceX SmallSat Rideshare program allows companies to launch small satellites to space destinations for as low as $1 million, by sharing spacecraft with a larger payload during a mission. Booking an entire rocket flight can cost up to $60 million, so, the rideshare program gives companies a much affordable option to launch small payloads into orbit ranging up to 200 kilograms (440 lbs), adding $5,000 per kilogram to the cost, if the satellite is a bit heavier.
Planet will launch 6 satellites during SpaceX Starlink missions. Starlink, is a SpaceX subsidiary project which 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. The SmallSat Rideshare program, will allow Planet’s SkySat satellites to take a ride aboard two upcoming Starlink deployments. The first mission is scheduled for June, 3 SkySats will deploy alongside 60 Starlink satellites. The additional 3 SkySats will be launched over the Summer. Both missions will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Planet’s SkySats are Earth-Imaging satellites, which take high-resolution photographs of Earth’s surface. Currently, the company has a collection of 15 SkySats in orbit. Planet stated the next SkySats, will operate in LEO Sun Synchronous Orbits at a – “mid-inclination orbit of 53 degrees, complimenting the Sun Synchronous fleet, and will offer more targeted coverage and thus unrivaled rapid-revisits and raw image capacity in key geographic regions.”
Launching its next set of satellites into this orbit will allow Planet to offer better quality images of Earth to compete in the national security market. “The launch of SkySats …as well as the development of our enhanced 50 cm imagery (to be made available to customers this year)—are just some examples of Planet’s continuously evolving industry-leading geospatial offerings,” Planet wrote in a press release. The 50-centimeter-resolution imagery of the new satellites is an improvement from the 72-centimeter-resolution imagery provided by the current satellites in orbit.