Planet Labs’ mini photo satellites are now being released from the International Space Station. Four satellites were launched February 11 in what is expected to become a steady stream of miniature satellites ejected from the ISS.
Planet Labs wants to create – essentially – a live view version of Google Earth. Instead of using satellite photos that are weeks, months or even years old, Planet Lab’s low orbit CubeSats – essentially orbiting cellphone cameras – enable daily refreshed images, sometimes just hours old.
They successfully launched two demonstration CubeSats, Dove 1 and Dove 2, in April 2013. Dove 3 and Dove 4 were launched in November 2013.
Flock 1 is their constellation of 28 earth-observing satellites that were delivered to the space station last month. Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft hauled 33 tiny CubeSats up to the space station in January for later release.
Flock 1 will orbit about 400 km and provide imagery with a resolution of 3–5 meters. Commercial applications include mapping, real estate and construction, and oil and gas monitoring. For example, Flock 1 can replace the need for flying a helicopter over an oil pipeline to monitor for a leak.
Previously Chris worked on NASA PhoneSats. The Planet Labs swarm should enable applications to use virtually “live” satellite imagery – at affordable costs – rather than satellite imagery that’s months or years old.
In December, 2013, over 90 tiny Cubesats were launched. See: Satellite Swarms Revolutionize Earth Imaging and Orbital Science’s First Resupply Flight Carries Satellite Swarm