Planet Labs' SkySat fleet of sub-metre imaging satellites now complete, largest in the world

With the three newest members up in orbit, the final SkySat constellation of 21 was completed.


The largest constellation of high-resolution satellites for earth imaging welcomed its newest three members on 18 August 2020. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that carried almost 58 Starlink satellites in a ride-share mission also carried the last three satellites in the Planet Labs' SkySat constellation – SkySats 19, 20 and 21.

Now in orbit, the SkySat satellites 19-21 will use their onboard propulsion to move to an operational altitude of 400 km in the weeks to come. The three new satellites join the existing constellation of 18 in orbit, and significantly expand the high-resolution image capacity of the company, Planet said in a statement. They will be put to use for a variety of uses for commercial, governmental, academic and non-profit organizations, it added.

A pair of Planet’s Dove satellites after deployment from the Space Station. Image credit: NASA

A pair of Planet’s Dove satellites after deployment from the Space Station. Image credit: NASA

The SkySat constellation is a massive team of small, sub-meter resolution satellites designed for earth-observing by San Fransisco-based Earth imaging company Planet Labs. These CubeSats, affectionately known as 'Doves', can do a combination of high-resolution imaging and analytical functions. Each satellite has both a high-powered telescope and a camera that points towards the earth – scanning the earth’s surface continuously and beaming back data for researchers to analyse.

Planet Labs hopes for the satellites to be useful in understanding, in real time, effects of climate change on crop farming, land surveying, and disaster relief. Some of the work these constellations have been used for include monitoring deforestation, urbanization to improving natural disaster relief and studying agricultural yields around the world, as per Planet's statement.

An image of Mount Dukono located in northern Indonesia captured by a Dove satellite. Since they orbit in 'flocks', it's possible to make daily or even hourly image updates of the earth's surface. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

An image of Mount Dukono located in northern Indonesia captured by a Dove satellite. Since they orbit in 'flocks', it's possible to capture daily, or in some case hourly, image updates of anywhere on the Earth's surface. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The first 15 SkySats move in a Sun Synchronous Orbit around the Earth, whereby it is always pointed at the half of Earth illuminated by the Sun. While one half of Planet Labs' SkySats pass overhead in the morning, the other half make their pass in the afternoon. This ensures that the satellites cover any spot on Earth at least twice a day, as per a statement from the company.

With the three newest members up in orbit, the final SkySat constellation of 21 has been completed, as planned in 2009 by SkyBox.

Check out the Planet Labs' Gallery for the latest imagery from the SkySat fleet.


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