Flock Of Minisats Will Image The Earth

Planet Labs, a 2-year-old company founded in San Francisco, CA, is launching dozens of small satellites or minisats, which they call 'nimble imagers'.


(Minisatellite view)

This is a major departure from the prevailing model of designing a single, tremendously powerful (and expensive) Earth-observing satellite and rigorously testing it for years before launching it. But these little satellites, which measure about 12 inches by 4 inches, have other big advantages. They are cheap enough to be essentially expendable, so the company can risk sending satellites into space before they are perfected, and continuously update the flock with improved units as it learns from those it’s already launched. This drastically reduces costs by removing the need for rigorous testing to ensure a satellite will perform as expected in orbit—usually a multi-year process. If a minisat design fails or falls short of expectations, Planet Labs just sends up another, better one.

“We can do it small and cheap, so we can afford to take risks and push fast,” Planet Labs software engineer Frank Warmerdam said

This use of small, almost disposable mini-satellites, reminded me of the small recording eyes in Robert Silverberg's 1969 novel The Man in the Maze:

Muller saw a cloud-wrapped planet... it could have been Venus... The recording eye pierced the cloud layer and revealed an unfamiliar, not very Earthlike planet.

Boardman said, "That was taken less than a month ago. We parked a drone ship fifty thousand kilometers up and dropped roughly a thousand eyes on Beta Hydri IV.

From Planet Labs via Wired.

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