SkySat is a constellation of sub-meter resolution Earth observation satellites owned by Planet Labs, providing imagery, high-definition video and analytics services. Planet acquired the satellites with their purchase of Terra Bella (formerly Skybox Imaging), a Mountain View, California-based company founded in 2009 by Dan Berkenstock, Julian Mann, John Fenwick, and Ching-Yu Hu, from Google in 2017.
The resolution of the SkySat satellite imagery and videos is high enough to observe objects that impact the global economy such as terrain, cars and shipping containers. The satellites can capture video clips lasting up to 90 seconds at 30 frames per second. The high-definition satellite video from SkySat satellites “could help us understand our world better by analyzing movement of goods and people, providing visual data about supply chains, shipping, industrial plant activity, and even humanitarian relief efforts.”
The constellation's goal is to be able to provide high-resolution satellite imagery of any place on Earth multiple times a day. When Skybox originally delevoped the satellites, they planned to "change the nature" of the satellite industry by building satellites with "off-the-shelf" electronics that cost under $50 million.
The SkySat satellites are based on the CubeSat concept, using inexpensive automotive grade electronics and fast commercially available processors,, but scaled up to approximately the size of a minifridge. The satellites are approximately 80cm long, compared to approximately 30cm for a 3U CubeSat, and weigh 220lbs.
The first two prototype satellites (SkySat 1,2) were produced by Skybox Imaging in-house. They did not have a propulsion system.
The other 13 satellites are manufactured by SSL, the optical payloads are built by L3 Technologies, and the satellite thrusters are provided by ECAPS. The 13 SkySat-C satellites are slightly larger and heavier (with mass about 120kg) than the prototypes. They have a planned operational life of 6 years.
There have been 15 satellites launched:
- SkySat-1 (COSPAR 2013-066C), launched 21 November 2013 by a Dnepr rocket from Dombarovsky Air Base, Russia.
- SkySat-2 (COSPAR 2014-037D), launched 8 July 2014 by a Soyuz-2-1b rocket from Baikonur.
- SkySat-3 (aka SkySat-C1, SkySat Gen2-1, COSPAR 2016-040C), launched 22 June 2016 by a PSLV-XL rocket from Sharikota.
- SkySat-4 (aka SkySat-C2, COSPAR 2016-058D), launched 16 September 2016 by a Vega rocket from Kourou.
- SkySat-5 (aka SkySat-C3, COSPAR 2016-058E), launched 16 September 2016 by a Vega rocket from Kourou.
- SkySat-6 (aka SkySat-C4, COSPAR 2016-058B), launched 16 September 2016 by a Vega rocket from Kourou.
- SkySat-7 (aka SkySat-C5, COSPAR 2016-058C), launched 16 September 2016 by a Vega rocket from Kourou.
- SkySat-8 (aka SkySat-C6, COSPAR 2017-068F), launched 31 October 2017 by a Minotaur-C-3210 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- SkySat-9 (aka SkySat-C7, COSPAR 2017-068E), launched 31 October 2017 by a Minotaur-C-3210 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- SkySat-10 (aka SkySat-C8, COSPAR 2017-068D), launched 31 October 2017 by a Minotaur-C-3210 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- SkySat-11 (aka SkySat-C9, COSPAR 2017-068C), launched 31 October 2017 by a Minotaur-C-3210 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- SkySat-12 (aka SkySat-C10, COSPAR 2017-068B), launched 31 October 2017 by a Minotaur-C-3210 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- SkySat-13 (aka SkySat-C11, COSPAR 2017-068A), launched 31 October 2017 by a Minotaur-C-3210 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- SkySat-14 (aka SkySat-C12, COSPAR 2018-099AR), launched 3 December 2018 by a Falcon-9 v1.2 (Block 5) rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- SkySat-15 (aka SkySat-C13, COSPAR 2018-099AW), launched 3 December 2018 by a Falcon-9 v1.2 (Block 5) rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The SkySat-C satellites were put on a 500km SSO orbit.
By April 2012, Skybox Imaging had raised a total of US$91 million of private capital from Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canaan Partners and Norwest Venture Partners to develop the SkySat constellation.
On November 21, 2013, the first satellite, SkySat-1, was launched on a Dnepr rocket from Dombarovsky Air Base, Russia. Less than a month later, on December 11, 2013, the first images captured by the SkySat-1 satellite, of Perth, Abu Dhabi, and the coast of Somalia, were released. The second satellite, SkySat-2, launched on a Soyuz-2/Fregat rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on July 8, 2014. The company plans to eventually launch a fleet of 24 satellites. and released its first images within 48 hours of launch.
On February 10, 2014, SSL announced that Skybox had awarded it a contract to build 13 more satellites based on a revised "SkySat C" design. The first of these, Skysat-3, also referred to as SkySat-C1, was launched on June 22, 2016 by ISRO on PSLV flight C34, with contract for four more satellites to launch.[failed verification]
On June 10, 2014, Skybox Imaging announced that it had entered into an agreement to be acquired by Google for US$500 million. The acquisition was completed on August 1, 2014. Skybox Imaging changed its name to "Terra Bella" on March 8, 2016, to indicate its focus on image analytics. The new name was partially based on the Terra Bella Ave. in Mountain View, California, where the company's headquarters are located. Terra bella is Italian for "beautiful earth".
In 2017, Google sold Terra Bella and its SkySat satellite constellation to Planet Labs for an undisclosed price and entered into a multi-year agreement to purchase SkySat imaging data. Planet launched six more SkySat satellites, along with four Dove CubeSats, on a Minotaur-C rocket from Vandenberg AFB on October 31, 2017. An additional two SkySat satellites and three Dove CubeSats were launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg on December 3, 2018.
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