Skybox provides sub-meter imagery as well as 90-second videos from its network of satellites. It points them at specific spots to provide analytics about how they change over time. The first images taken by a minifridge-size satellite launched in late November were publicly released Dec. 11 by Skybox.
In November, Skybox sent its first Earth observation satellite, SkySat-1, on a Russian Dnepr rocket. SkySat-2 is slated to piggyback on a Russian rocket in June carrying the Meteor M2 weather satellite.
After building its first two satellites, Skybox hired Space Systems/Loral to build the next 13 spacecraft. Orbital Sciences will launch six in late 2015 from Vandenberg in California.
Weighing roughly 120 kilograms, and launched in 2015 and 2016, these satellites, based on a Skybox design, will capture sub-meter color imagery and up to 90-second HD video clips at 30 frames per second. Once the 13 satellites are launched, Skybox will be able to revisit any point on earth three times per day.
Skybox’s 1-meter-resolution satellites can be built and launched into orbit for well under $50 million each, with a planned operating lifetime of four years. Skybox raised $91 million before the Google announcement. Each of the $50 million Skybox satellites cost about a 10th as much as a traditional earth observation satellites.
Satellite swarms are revolutionizing Earth imaging. The Skybox satellites are significantly larger and orbit higher than the Planet Labs 3U CubeSats. Planet Labs, another Silicon Valley startup, uses an ultra-small 3U Cubesat design, and promise to shake up the field of satellite imagery.
The 28 satellites that make up Planet Lab’s Flock 1 were carried aboard Orbital Sciences’ robotic Cygnus vessel on a run to the space station. All 28 satellites orbit at an altitude of 400 kilometers, powered by solar panels.
Supposedly, the LEO comsats would operate in circular orbits of 800 and 950 kilometers inclined 88.2 degrees relative to the equator. Google may try for a regulatory deadlines of between late 2019 and mid-2020 to enter service by the ITU, using the Ku band (12/14 GHz).
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