India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C37) has launched into space 88 satellites from Earth imaging company Planet Labs, giving the startup the ability to “image all of Earth’s landmass every day.”
Planet Labs earlier this month entered into an agreement to acquire Google’s Terra Bella business, including the SkySat constellation of satellites, and said that Google upon closing will enter into a multi-year contract to purchase Earth-imaging data from Planet.
The startup expects its data to be useful for a variety of applications such as measuring agricultural yields, monitoring natural resources, or aiding first responders after natural disasters.
The launch of the PSLV-37 on Wednesday morning local time was a record for India’s space program as it carried 104 satellites into orbit, the largest number so far on a single launch. Launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in south India, the PSLV-C37 launched its primary payload, the 714 kilograms Cartosat-2 series satellite for Earth observation, and 103 co-passenger satellites that weighed about 663 kg at lift-off into a 505 kilometer polar Sun Synchronous Orbit.
A Sun Synchronous Orbit ensures that a satellite passes over a section of the planet’s surface at the same local time each day.
Planet Lab’s Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Robbie Schingler said that as a result of the PSLV launch, the company now has 144 satellites in orbit.
Besides miniaturizing its Dove satellites and learning to build them at scale, the company has “constructed the world’s second largest private network of ground stations; custom built an automated mission control system; created a massive data pipeline able to process the vast amount of imagery we collect; and developed a software platform that lets customers, researchers, governments and NGOs access imagery quickly,” Schingler wrote in a post soon after the launch.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said Wednesday that besides the Cartosat-2 series satellite, the PSLV-37 carried 101 co-passenger satellites, consisting of smaller nano-satellites, including one each from Kazakhstan, Israel, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates and 96 from the U.S., besides two nano-satellites from ISRO.
The ISRO nano-satellites are modular units weighing less than 10 kg and with payloads of up to 5 kg. They are designed to travel into orbit as co-passenger satellites to accompany larger satellites on PSLV. Besides satellites from Planet, the PSLV also launched eight satellites from remote tracking company Spire.