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Planet Labs plans big increase in imaging cubesats

Planet Labs, a satellite imaging startup formed by ex-NASA engineers, has applied for permission to more than double the number of satellites it has in orbit.

Earlier this year, 28 of the San Francisco company’s small-sized “cubesats” satellites were released from the International Space Station to form its first constellation of satellites called “Flock 1.”

Orbiting at an altitude of 410 kilometers, the satellites can take images of the Earth with a resolution of around 4 meters per pixel.

Now the company has asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for approval to launch 39 additional satellites: a second batch of 28 that will collectively be called “Flock 1b” and a further 11 that will be “Flock 1c.”

The new satellites will be technically and functionally identical to the first batch but fly at different orbits, according to the company’s application. The Flock 1b satellites will be slightly lower at between 380 and 410 kilometers and the Flock 1c will be considerably higher at 620 kilometers.

That should mean images from Flock 1b are largely similar to those from the current satellites, but those from Flock 1c will cover a larger portion of the Earth with slightly less detail.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Planet Labs eventually hopes to have more than 100 satellites in space and be able to provide a photo of every spot on Earth at least once every 24 hours. Current Earth imaging satellite systems generally fly over the same spot once every two or three days.

The company, which builds its satellites at its San Francisco office, has attracted US$65.1 million in venture financing.

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