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Planet Labs to launch 100-satellite remote sensing fleet

Posted: March 17, 2014

Fueled by venture capital financing, Planet Labs Inc. announced Monday it plans to launch 100 satellites in the next year from the United States and Russia, joining a growing fleet of miniature Earth imaging spacecraft to observe the entire planet every 24 hours.

Photo of the 28 satellites deployed by Planet Labs in February. Photo credit: Planet Labs
The 100-satellite fleet, which Planet Labs claims is the largest ever manifested, will launch on rockets from the United States and Russia over the next 12 months.

Avanti Mankar, a spokesperson for San Francisco-based Planet Labs, said the 100 satellites would join the company's 31 satellites in orbit. Planet Labs officials say the constellation will collect global imagery every day.

Planet Labs says it has lined up customers to purchase imagery from the satellites.

"We are imaging the planet to save the planet," said Will Marshall, co-founder of Planet Labs. "Imaging the Earth at this frequency will help us to measure things from deforestation, to improving agricultural yield, to detecting overfishing. Our mission is to create information people need to help life on the planet."

In February, 28 Planet Labs satellites were released from a CubeSat deployer on the International Space Station. Cameras on each of those spacecraft can capture images with a resolution between 3 and 5 meters, or between 10 and 16 feet, according to Planet Labs.

Planet Labs did not disclose the imaging capabilities of its next 100 satellites.

Mankar said launch providers and launch dates for the 100-satellite fleet would be revealed later.

The Planet Labs announcement did not specify the satellites' orbits. The 28 satellites deployed from the space station in February are limited to imaging between 52 degrees of the equator due to their orbit.

The Earth observation satellites are based on the CubeSat platform. Each spacecraft weighs less than 10 pounds and is about the size of a loaf of bread.

The satellites will monitor natural disasters, deforestation, agricultural yields and other environmental changes. The company says the satellites will allow scientists and the public to track changes to Earth's surface.

Monday's announcement comes after Planet Labs received $52 million in financing led by venture capitalist Yuri Milner.

"Getting 100 satellites on the launch manifest is a major milestone in the new space industry," said Steve Jurvetson, managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a previous Planet Labs investor, and board member of Planet Labs and SpaceX. "The small form factor requires less space on the rocket, allowing for more flexibility for launch configurations. And a constellation of 100 satellites is unprecedented."

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.