How ISRO put 88 Doves and 2 Lemurs in orbit

AJ Vinayak Mangaluru | Updated on January 13, 2018

Going places ISRO’s Workhorse PSLV-C37 takes off from Sriharikota on Wednesday PTI

Two American ventures launch 96 nano satellites

“India 104 not out,” said a scientist in a televised address after the launch of 104 satellites by Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) PSLV-C37 on Wednesday.

In fact, two US-based space technology start-ups have contributed a major share of 96 satellites to the total number of 104.

Founded in 2010, the San Francisco-based Planet Labs launched 88 Dove satellites (also known as ‘Flock 3p’) in this mission. Dove satellites image the earth every day to collect a radical new data set with real-world applications.

Spire Global, another SF-based start-up founded in 2012, launched eight Lemur 2 satellites, which provide ship tracking and weather data, on the occasion.

At the most, these 96 satellites from the two start-ups are the size of a shoe-box. Known as ‘cubesats’, these are loaded with high-resolution sensors to capture data.

A blog post authored by Will Marshall, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, and Robbie Schingler, co-founder of Planet Labs, after the launch of Dove satellites said Wednesday’s event is the culmination of a huge effort over the past five years.

Imaging the Earth

In a tweet after the launch, Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs, said he and Will Marshall had the idea to launch 100 satellites in polar orbit to image the earth once per day. “Today that vision was realised,” he tweeted. As this task would require around 100-150 satellites, the start-up started building them. It said that Planet operates 144 satellites in orbit after Wednesday’s launch.

This is the second launch of Dove satellites aboard PSLV. In June 2016, ISRO had launched 12 ‘Flock 2p’ on the PSLV.

A blog post by the company in October had said 60 of its satellites in orbit then produce around 3 lakh images (approximately of 1.6TB) every day. At an approximate altitude of 500 km, Doves image the earth every day. Data from Doves helps in measuring agricultural yields, monitoring natural resources, or in aiding first responders after natural disasters.

Spire Global, which launched its eight satellites on PSLV, is betting big on covering uncovered areas of the globe.

In a transcript of the podcast interview on the publishing platform Medium, Peter Platzer, co-founder and CEO of Spire Global, said that weather impacts a third of the global economy and a 100 per cent of the global population, and 94 per cent of all data that goes into weather forecasting comes from satellites.

Uncovered territory

Peter Platzer is of the opinion that it doesn’t do any good if satellites cover 8-10 per cent of the planet with populated land areas. All of the oceans, all the mountain ranges, the deserts, the unconnected areas, need to be covered for better weather forecasting. Spire’s products cover the three quarters of the planet that are typically neglected.

Published on February 15, 2017

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